SUNDAY EDITION | Assaults, bullying on the rise as JCPS attempts - WDRB 41 Louisville News

SUNDAY EDITION | Assaults, bullying on the rise as JCPS attempts to address student behavior

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New data shows the number of JCPS student behavior incidents – which include everything from drugs, tobacco and alcohol offenses to fighting, assaults, harassment and weapons cases – spiked from 49,155 total incidents in 2014-15 to 62,125 last year. New data shows the number of JCPS student behavior incidents – which include everything from drugs, tobacco and alcohol offenses to fighting, assaults, harassment and weapons cases – spiked from 49,155 total incidents in 2014-15 to 62,125 last year.
Taylor Gravel was a victim of harassment during the 2015-16 year. Taylor Gravel was a victim of harassment during the 2015-16 year.
“All those people that were there…they probably don’t realize how different it would make things on me," - Taylor Gravel “All those people that were there…they probably don’t realize how different it would make things on me," - Taylor Gravel

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Taylor Gravel had just finished her day at Moore Traditional School and was walking home when she was bullied, threatened and then hit with a bat by some of her classmates.

"They were all behind me, and there was so many of them, I was scared to turn around and do anything,” Taylor says of the May 16 incident, which was captured on video and posted online. “All those people that were there…they probably don’t realize how difficult it would make things on me.”

The 16-year-old says she could not go back to her life at Moore, which included taking classes in the school’s medical magnet program, or see her favorite teacher who helped her learn to love math.

“They didn’t do anything …all the people are still there who were involved,” says Taylor, who decided to take her remaining high school courses online through JCPS eSchool, rather than return for her junior year. “It was too easy for them to be in my class or for me to run into them every day. I didn’t want to be threatened or harassed.”

New data released by the state earlier this month as part of the district’s School Report Card show that the number of student behavior incidents – which include everything from drugs, tobacco and alcohol offenses to fighting, assaults, harassment and weapons cases – spiked from 49,155 total incidents in 2014-15 to 62,125 last year -- a 26 percent increase.

The increase comes at a time when district officials have tweaked their strategic plan, revised the code of conduct and disciplinary consequences, as well as encouraged parents to help with behaviors at home.

“Interrupting instruction and learning is not acceptable,” said Superintendent Donna Hargens. “We need to help students learn and choose different behaviors. Our take is to intervene early, as soon as there is an issue with behavior we must intervene early.”

The data specifically show that assaults, bullying and harassment cases in JCPS skyrocketed during the 2015-16 year. There were 7,915 bullying and harassment incidents last year, compared with 5,239 incidents the previous year – a 51 percent increase.

“Those numbers are unacceptable…anyone who is bullied, we obviously take that very seriously,” said Hargens, adding that the district’s anonymous bullying tipline was created in January as an additional resource for students or parents.

Schools reporting the most cases of harassment and bullying last year include Thomas Jefferson Middle School, which had 600 incidents alone -- an increase from 406 incidents in 2014-15. The other top schools were Valley High (370 incidents), Crosby Middle (336), Doss High (315) and Moore Traditional School (302).

Assault cases also climbed from 486 cases in 2014-15 to 709 cases in 2015-16. Nine of the assaults from 2015-16 were serious enough to be classified as a felony offense, while only three were classified as first degree assault the previous year.

Hargens says she believes part of the reason for the increase is that more people are reporting the incidents.

“What’s really important to us is transparency in reporting,” she said. “We have made it clear to everyone that reporting the incidents and making sure they follow the new student behavior intervention support system is important.”

Hargens added that JCPS has “teams of people looking at data daily to make sure we are not only capturing the incidences, but we're also responding appropriately.”

Discipline on the rise

The increase in behavior incidents comes after a long year of complaints from parents, teachers, staff members and community members over discipline issues at the district's 155 schools.

JCPS has turned to intervention strategies such as restorative practices to proactively manage student behavior. The premise behind restorative practices is that people are happier, more cooperative and productive when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.

In May, the school board approved a last minute $5 million line item to help schools better manage student behavior after school board chairman David Jones Jr. questioned whether the district was spending enough money to address student behavior.

At that point, only $500,000 in incremental spending had been allotted.

“The initial expenditure was for a contract for restorative practices and again, we will add things as we need them,” Hargens says of the extra expenditure. “We are actually monitoring the system right now to ensure that we have the support that we need.”

The data from the report card show that JCPS did discipline more students – there were 49,000 out-of-school suspensions and in school removals in the 2014-15 school year. Last year, that number jumped to over 58,000.

The classroom is the number one place where behavior problems are occurring, followed by hallways and stairwells, then buses and cafeterias, according to the report card. The figures also show that most of the problems are caused by students in middle and high schools.

Of the 62,125 incidents last year, 63 percent (39,532 incidents) involved students in 7-10th grades.

The Jefferson County Teachers Association says behavior problems that happen over and over again are making it hard for teachers to teach.

“That's why it's so important to get ahead of the problem and to create a proactive approach to help students own and believe the rules and follow them,” said Brent McKim, JCTA president.

Assaults

The nine first degree assault incidents during the 2015-16 year happened at Atkinson Elementary, Byck Elementary, Smyrna Elementary, Pleasure Ridge Park High, Doss High and the Academy @ Shawnee.

Shawnee had four serious assaults.

One of them happened shortly before noon on March 2 when one student pushed through a bathroom stall and repeatedly attacked a classmate, beating the victim’s head into the sink until security arrived.

A week later, two other Shawnee students attacked another student during lunch – a “two on one assault” that was “unprovoked and created a major safety risk during lunch.”

All students involved with the serious assaults were suspended and recommended for alternative school placement, Martin said.

It is unclear if the students were arrested because juvenile criminal records are sealed.

The schools reporting the most other types of assaults include Crosby Middle (67 incidents), Seneca High (51), Stuart Middle (35), Fern Creek High (34) and Minor Daniels Academy (34).

Weapons and drugs

The data shows that the number of incidents involving weapons and drugs also increased last year from the previous year.

During the 2014-15 year, there were 64 incidents involving weapons and 1,068 incidents involving drugs or tobacco. Last year, there were 95 weapons incidents and 1,093 cases involving drugs or tobacco.

Schools with most weapons violations include Moore Traditional School, which reported 9 weapons incidents last year, Fern Creek (8 incidents), Iroquois (8), Academy @ Shawnee (6) and Carrithers Middle School (5).

Drug incidents – everything from marijuana and heroin to crack and prescription drugs – were highest at Seneca High, which reported 76 incidents, Fern Creek (53), Moore Traditional (47), Valley High (47) and Waggener High (41).

'I don’t think they did what they could do'

Students like Taylor – and her grandmother Leslie Burton – don’t think JCPS is doing enough to deal with the issues.

Although what happened to Taylor on May 16 occurred off campus, JCPS officials said the other students involved had cut class earlier in the day and were disciplined at school for their role in the attack.

“I don't think they handled it well at all because Taylor is not in school and the other kids are – I don’t think they did what they could do,” Burton said. “And Taylor is the one who is missing out. She’s missing out on all the activities and fun things that come with high school. She’s a smart girl and she’ll graduate early, but not with all the kids in her class.”

Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for the district, says JCPS worked to find appropriate placement or a situation that would work for Taylor, but ultimately the family made the decision for her to enroll in online school.

“I didn’t feel that she would be safe,” Burton said of the family’s decision to enroll her in online classes. “And most importantly, she didn’t feel that she would be safe.”

Taylor says she thinks JCPS can do more to help students like her who have been victims of bullying and harassment.

“They should have more discipline towards students that aren’t doing what they should be because when you don’t discipline them, they don’t feel they have to take responsibility for anything,” she said.

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Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

Copyright 2016 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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