Troubleshooters: Parents, teachers raise concerns over JCPS discipline

About 16% of JCPS students had a behavior problem during the last school year, and about half of those received out-of-school suspensions, according to state da
Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 7:54 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - About 16% of JCPS students had a behavior problem during the last school year, and about half of those received out-of-school suspensions, according to state data.

The lack of discipline is something one JCPS student’s mother, Erica Bates, said she doesn’t understand. She remembers the days when you got in big time trouble for fighting.

“This didn’t happen when I went to school,” she said.

But now she believes things are even out of the teacher’s control.

“You can’t step in because what’s going to happen? This kid’s going to hit you,” Bates said. “But guess what, he’s back in school today.”

“How does that make you feel?” WAVE Troubleshooters asked.


Bates’ son was strangled at Newburg Middle School by another student he says he didn’t even know.

“Another child out of nowhere comes up behind him, wraps his hand around him,” she said. “When I called the cops, they said quit calling this a choke-out. It wasn’t a choke out. It was strangulation.”

Bates said surveillance video would later show what happened next. Her son blacks out and hits his head on the concrete.

He was found passed out on the pavement. When she got to the school, her son was still out of it, confused and with a concussion.

“No one called the police. No one called EMS. No one called anybody,” Bates said.

That would be the beginning of her struggle.

Bates says the school refused to tell her what was happening to the student believed to have attacked her son. Laws prohibit the release of a student’s name.

JCPS told us, “due to federal law (FERPA), we cannot release information about a student to someone who is not their parent/guardian, which is why the person you interviewed would not have heard about the discipline of someone who is not their child.”

However, Bates says she wasn’t asking for them to identify the student by name, she just wanted to keep her child safe from him.

“This kid and my child ride the bus together,” she said. “They wouldn’t tell me if he was going to return the next day, how long he was going to be gone for.”

Bates got a statement many other parents in similar situations have received too.

“The student is being disciplined according to the behavioral code of conduct,” a long-time JCPS teacher repeated from memory. “Parents think it’s being handled, there will be some discipline that is handed down to an offending student, but it’s not. JCPS does not like to suspend. They won’t suspend because that looks bad.”

The teacher did not wish to be identified.

The district has denied instructing staff to not suspend.  And according to their own handbook, they can suspend for a serious offense.

State records show in the last school year, they suspended 8.2% of students with behavioral incidents. Gave in-school suspension to about 6% of them.

Before it gets to that point though, educators are instructed to use “logical” consequences and restorative responses through a mental health and trauma lens.  Teachers can start by moving a child’s seat for example and changing their language. The consequences are to escalate along with the child’s behavior if it continues.

Part of the restorative practices, and positive behavioral intervention systems, this long-time teacher explained, intends to change behavior by rewarding the good instead of only punishing the bad.

The problem, he said, is that JCPS only applies the first half of the equation.

“He’s not being disciplined,” the teacher said of a common scenario. “He’s going to the behavior coach’s office where he’ll play with fidget spinners and then he’ll draw a picture of what he does the next time he has a bad day. No consequences for smacking this little girl and I’ve seen it many times.”

He says sometimes the other students are traumatized and lose class time, especially during “room clears.”

That’s when the class, not the child, is removed from the classroom and the students sit in the hallway until the child calms down, sometimes for 20 minutes.

He says the students get tired of it too.

“I will quote an administrator, JCPS is too worried about the 5% of the kids that cause problems than they are the 95 who don’t,” the teacher said.

WAVE Troubleshooters found out that administrator is close.

State data shows only 16% of JCPS students have had a behavior issue, versus 84 percent that haven’t.

The teacher, and current JCPS bus driver interviewed by WAVE Troubleshooters Tuesday, said it’s the disciplinary problems that drove bus drivers out, as well as teachers.

The teacher added, it’s having an effect academically.

According to state records, JCPS ranked low in academic scores in math, reading, social studies and science for elementary, middle and high school students.

“The VanHoose people come to the school to visit and want to see the school’s data and ‘Oh, wow, look at these low scores that you have,’ and the administrators just hold up data that says, ‘Yes, but look, we didn’t suspend anybody.’ And that’s what they’re worried about and what the VanHoose people want to see.”

The State’s Department of Education does not create the disciplinary procedures for school districts. That’s left to them.

And that’s also part of the problem, this teacher said. Decisions are being made by people who don’t know what it’s like in a classroom.

“People from a committee from VanHoose, standing around in their suits and having a meeting with their catered Panera and coming up with something to justify their non-classroom position,” the teacher said.

Bates’s son’s case ended up in criminal court, and she moved her son to another school.

While she is frustrated with the district and the administrators at the school, she feels for those in the classrooms.

“I watch this stuff and it’s scary,” she said. “I could not be a teacher. I could not be a teacher.”

WAVE News Troubleshooters asked JCPS for interviews a week before our first story aired, Tuesday. They were given the topics of discussion up front.

They told us they couldn’t accommodate but to send the questions in writing.

We responded with another an open-ended invitation for whatever day or time would work, and without boundaries on a topic.

Troubleshooter John Boel previously asked for an interview with Superintendent Marty Pollio, separate from these investigations.

The district declined that request too.