JCPS board approves 'wish list' that would allow superintendent to replace outgoing principals

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens admits the district made a "data entry discrepancy" in reporting to the state the number of times students were either physically held down or confined to a room last school 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.

Hargens provided details about the discrepancy,initially reported by The Courier-Journal on Monday, during Tuesday's school board meeting.

"Seclusions and restraints are techniques that are used to protect students from harming themselves or others," Hargens told school board members. "We have 886 staff members who are trained and each time a technique is used – from an arm hold to a bear hug – this must be documented. We have documented those in an internal system."

Kentucky's 2013 regulation says restraint and seclusion may only be used if a student's behavior poses imminent danger or physical harm to themselves or others. It also states that all physical restraints and seclusions shall be documented by a written record of each use of seclusion or physical restraint and be maintained in the student’s education record. 

Hargens said two years ago, the state asked for the seclusion and restraint data to be put into Infinite Campus -- the state's online data reporting and collection system.

"This created a situation where you had an internal database that was not communicating with an external database," Hargens said. "The solution at the time was to have the reports entered into the two separate systems."

Hargens said she first became aware that there was a data entry discrepancy last Thursday and she "immediately notified Commissioner (Stephen) Pruitt, outlining the steps we were taking to ensure the data we had collected through our internal system was moved into Infinite Campus," Hargens said.

In Hargens' email to Pruitt she said it's "our goal at JCPS is to transparently communicate with you and transmit data to you effectively and with integrity."

Pruitt responded to Hargens' email on Friday, saying he "appreciates your district notifying us of this issue and your willingness to work with us in resolving the situation."

According to state regulation, seclusion is defined as the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is prevented from leaving but does not mean classroom timeouts, supervised in-school detentions, or out-of-school suspensions.

The regulation describes "Physical Restraint" as a personal restriction that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to move the student’s torso, arms, legs, or head freely, but does not include temporary touching or holding a student's hand, arm or shoulder to encourage a student to move voluntarily to a safe location.

As of Tuesday, Hargens says the district's internal reporting system "has been shut down so that new cases cannot be inadvertently added to it, instead of the state system."

"Let me be very clear — these cases have been documented, and the data is available," Hargens said. "We have corrected the process that led to the discrepancy and are updating our numbers with the Kentucky Department of Education."

Hargens says she appreciates the support of the Kentucky Department of Education in "recognizing the transparency and urgency with which we resolved the issue."

"I know this Board has high expectations, as I do, and we understand the importance of being accurate and data-informed," she said.

Hargens said the data discrepancy issue "highlights the process of continuously improving and building a data system of integrity."

Going forward, "we are asking our internal auditor to not only review our financial reporting, but to review our data reporting as well and to assess any risk in our processes," Hargens said.

The district's internal auditor is Dean Dorton, a full-service CPA firm, and Hargens said she spoke with Jim Tencza, director of internal audits on Friday.

Meanwhile, several board members noted their concern about the data discrepancy during Tuesday night's meeting.

School board chairman David Jones Jr. outlined a number of concerns.

"We have both substantive questions about whether the treatment of students is appropriate," Jones said. "(We are) also concerned about the accuracy and integrity of the information -- both what is being reported to the various regulatory authorities but also that this board is getting to make its decisions."

Jones says he realizes "getting accurate facts" in such a large district "is a big challenge."

"However, without accurate info, the board is not able to do its job effectively," he said.

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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