Should JCPS continue to 'exit' students from its magnet schools?

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- New discipline data released by Jefferson County Public Schools shows that the total number of student discipline referrals has increased 43 percent during the 2016-17 year and that suspensions have also jumped 16 percent from last year.

The data, which will be shared with the Jefferson County Board of Education during a 4 p.m. work session on Tuesday, also shows that the top three student behavior problems include fighting, disruptive behavior and failure to follow instructions.

"Adult-student relationships need our immediate attention," according to a PowerPoint presentation put together by Katy Zeitz, an assistant superintendent with JCPS. "Two of the top three (behavior) codes at all three levels (elementary, middle and high school) speak to toxic interactions between adults/staff and students."

Through the first 122 days of school, the number of student behavior incidents – which include everything from drugs, tobacco and alcohol offenses to fighting, assaults, harassment and weapons cases – have increased from 96,790 in 2015-16 to 138,962 this year. Two years ago, there were 49,155 incidents for the entire year.

Student suspensions have also jumped from 12,429 last year to 14,373 this year. In addition, the numbers continue to show that black and special education students are being suspended more than their white, non-special education peers.

"Suspensions are not going to change student behavior," the report states. "Reducing suspensions and disproportionality in our schools is going to take all members of our community."

JCPS officials declined a request from WDRB on Monday to speak with Zeitz about her presentation.

"It would be inappropriate for her to discuss the presentation until she’s had a chance to give it to board members," said Jennifer Brislin, a JCPS spokeswoman.

The increases come 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.

District officials say they also believe that more people are reporting and entering the incidents than in the past, following a report from an independent auditor last year stating that JCPS employees and administrators underreported the number of times students were either physically held down or confined to a room by a "significant amount" last school year.

"All assistant principals and principals received training on appropriate data reporting, and were asked to ensure staff was documenting progressive discipline measures," the report states. "(They also) received training on restraint and seclusion procedures and expectations for reporting."

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

The district has turned to intervention strategies such as restorative practices and Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports 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.

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

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

District officials could not immediately say how the $5 million was spent and how much the district has allotted for student behavior in its 2017-18 budget.

In addition to an update on the data, the school board will also be given information regarding the district's contract with the International Institute for Restorative Practices and the status of suggested revisions for the district's code of conduct.

According to the agenda, Zeitz will "share the process for stakeholder feedback, what partners provided feedback, and finally, an overview of the feedback received ... and then conclude with suggested adjustments for the first handbook reading on May 9 with the final board approval happening on May 23."

All school board meetings on Tuesday will be held at the George Unseld Early Childhood Education Center, 5216 Ilex Avenue. 

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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