AUDIO | Gov. Matt Bevin blasts JCPS, calls it 'absolute, unmitigated disaster'
In a radio interview on Wednesday morning, Bevin called the state's largest school district a "disaster in terms of the educational results."
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Gov. Matt Bevin blasted Jefferson County Public Schools in a radio interview on Wednesday morning, calling the state's largest school district a "disaster in terms of the educational results."
"They have more failing schools than the entire rest of the state combined," Bevin told conservative talk show host Leland Conway on WHAS radio in Louisville. "It is an absolute, unmitigated mess, in terms of the way in which it has been getting operated."
Bevin also questioned the legality of the "safe haven" resolution passed by the Jefferson County Board of Education on Tuesday night and asked why the district is still busing children.
He called the resolution, which seeks to protect undocumented students from being unlawfully threatened or questioned by federal immigration officials, a "smokescreen" and a "distraction from the fact the system is broken."
The "safe haven" resolution declares "every JCPS school to be a safe haven for students and families threatened by immigration enforcement or discrimination, to the fullest extent permitted by law."
It narrowly passed, with three of the board's seven members abstaining from voting on the matter because they felt the district's current policies on the matter are already clear.
Bevin said the district has "arguably some of the finest schools in the state," but that others have "failed generation after generation."
"There needs to be real attention paid to what's going on at JCPS," Bevin said.
He also said the district's busing is "an antiquated approach that needs to be re-examined."
"Are we really helping these children by taking them from one community, putting them on a bus…to another community where arguably they should be getting a better education but ... may or may not be, and then pulling them out of there before they can participate in any kind of extracurricular activities?" Bevin asked.
Jennifer Brislin, a spokeswoman for JCPS, told WDRB News on Wednesday Bevin has not visited any public schools in Jefferson County since becoming governor in December 2015.
Superintendent Donna Hargens released a written statement Wednesday afternoon, saying the district is "proud of the inclusive and diverse learning opportunities and experiences offered to all students."
"JCPS has many of the top schools in the state and it also has the challenges of educating students who come to school with a variety of social and emotional needs," she said. "The doors of our schools are always open, and JCPS welcomes a collaborative and constructive conversation with Gov. Bevin about how we can continue boosting student achievement, not only in this district, but throughout our commonwealth."
Rob Mattheu, a parent whose daughter attends JCPS, called Bevin's comments "disappointing."
"I am extremely disappointed that Gov. Bevin chooses to attack the schools in his hometown," Mattheu told WDRB. "As a public school graduate, and the parent of a JCPS student who has spent her entire life in the system, I know first hand the advantages and drawbacks within the system. It is not perfect, and indeed much could be improved."
Mattheu suggested Bevin visit a JCPS school and "talk to students, parents, teachers, and staff in JCPS to understand its successes, failures, and the hardships, both internally and externally that deprive some students of the full educational experience."
Bevin's comments come nearly seven months after Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt ordered a "management review" of Jefferson County Public Schools.
The results of that review -- prompted by concerns of how school personnel “respond to dangerous behaviors, how they handle these situations and whether students can expect to be in a safe, protected environment" -- have not been released yet.
Pruitt was also concerned that the district under-reported the number of times students were either physically held down or confined to a room during the 2014-15 year.
According to internal data kept by the district, JCPS students were restrained or secluded 4,403 times during the 2014-15 year, but the district only correctly reported 174 of those incidents to the Kentucky Department of Education.
“I am deploying KDE staff to specifically focus on the restraint and seclusion issue and to ensure that students are receiving the supports and protections they must have as required by law,” he wrote.
In that letter, Pruitt also took JCPS to task for the way it has been reporting its data.
"JCPS' continued struggles with collecting, managing and preserving the data's integrity need to be put to rest," Pruitt wrote.
“We must remain focused on the fact that the safety and well-being of students is paramount," he said.
This story will be updated.
Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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