LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Jefferson County Board of Education has mostly barred suspensions for students in preschool through third grade.

The board on Tuesday voted 5-1 to amend the Jefferson County Public Schools Student Support and Behavior Intervention Handbook to include the prohibition of out-of-school suspensions for the district’s youngest students. Board member Linda Duncan, who represents District 5, was the lone "no" vote.

Principals can request permission to suspend young students from their assistant superintendents if warranted after threat assessments following possible violations of law, which determine what supports are needed to ensure the safety of students, according to the updated handbook.

In such cases, schools can "briefly" suspend students in preschool through third grade to ensure safety and craft support plans, the revised handbook says.

"As a district, we remained focused on research based practices that support the social emotional and mental health development of all students," updated language in the handbook says.

"We strive to mitigate racially disproportionate outcomes for our students while also using age-appropriate, early intervention, to design wrap-around supports that foster behavioral change over time. Research tells us that exclusionary discipline, like out of school suspensions, has multiple negative effects on our youngest students."

Duncan was the only board member who spoke in the discussion on changes to the student handbook, and she shared her concern about eliminating suspensions as an option for dealing with serious incidents in schools "because they will still happen."

Some school leaders have also said they do not have the resources, such as school facilities and counselors, to implement the changes outlined in the revised student handbook, she said.

"Sometimes we have egregious offenses that maybe aren’t law offenses, and what we’re doing when we don’t use suspension as an option is we’re taking parent intervention completely out," Duncan said.

But JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said Kentucky’s largest school district is "very behind" compared to other school systems across the U.S. in the move to ban most suspensions for young students.

One-day suspensions for 4- through 7-year-olds also do little to prevent repeat misbehavior, Pollio said.

Without better disciplinary outcomes for students, Pollio also suggested that about $80 million in federal money for educating students with disabilities could be jeopardized.

"We are at a time when we are going to have to look at things differently, or the consequences to the district will be pretty dire for us," he said.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, praised the board's decision to revise the JCPS Student Support and Behavior Intervention Handbook as "a significant move" in "putting student interests above adult convenience."

"Not only will it directly address troubling issues of equity in discipline, it will be a lever in closing achievement disparities as well," Brooks said in a statement.

The board also approved nearly 800 requests for supplemental school years, which allow students to retake or supplement classes taken during the 2020-21 school year in the upcoming academic year.

JCPS received 777 requests as of May 1 from families for supplemental school years in 2021-22, according to the district.

Senate Bill 128 created the program for the upcoming school year.

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