LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A top leader in the Jefferson County Public School district says there must be better reporting on the issue of bullying, both when it happens and when the district makes financial payouts because of it.
The remarks come one day after WDRB exposed Kentucky's largest school districts using taxpayer money to settle bullying and assault lawsuits and covering them in confidentiality agreements.
"I think we definitely should be more transparent in what gets awarded," JCPS board of education member Linda Duncan said. "I'm glad to highlight this story because I do believe it's an issue in our schools."
JCPS paid out at least $400,000 in three years to settle bullying and assault claims and used taxpayer money to cover the cost. It's kept quiet through confidentiality agreements with those who received the money and never discussed in open session at school board meetings.
"Sometimes we don't want to encourage people to try to pursue financial settlements over more trivial kinds of things," Duncan said.
Among the cases was a lawsuit over a child found hanging in a bathroom stall at Frayser Elementary School and a child from Schaffner Elementary School who ended up with a broken leg after being tackled by a student he had prior problems with on the playground.
Another settlement involved Natalie Scott, a former student at Moore Traditional School. She was jumped from behind at the end of a school day.
"To JCPS, I want to say, 'Wake up!'" Scott said.
Duncan, a former journalism teacher, says the change should come in reporting, with one district-wide process for better documentation when a kid first says there's a problem.
"When we start going to court over settlements, then to me it's gone too far," Duncan said. "These are things that need to be addressed with parents and students at the local level."
In addition to settlement dollars being made public Duncan also said the principals or teachers involved should be brought to light.
"Finding out what happens as a consequence to people responsible for these things, these lawsuits, who may have neglected what they were supposed to have done ... I think that is very much an issue we need to pursue," Duncan said.
These changes would mark a significant shift. JCPS officials denied or delayed WDRB's repeated requests for settlement documentation. WDRB asked attorneys to review the district’s responses. They said JCPS’ actions contradict Kentucky’s Open Records Act.
Duncan said the manner in which the school system discloses settlement amounts will be addressed in an upcoming school board meeting.
"I think we will get an opportunity to bring this up and discuss it," Duncan said.
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