Education

Student suspensions are up eight percent in Jefferson County this year, according to quarterly data presented to the school board Tuesday night. The increase knocks back progress the district made last year toward reducing suspensions.

JCPS is under pressure from the Kentucky Department of Education to reduce suspensions, especially among black students and students with disabilities. JCPS suspends black and special education students at much higher rates than their peers.

In the first year of district-wide discipline reform efforts, suspensions fell 13 percent according to media reports. But data presented Tuesday shows this year, suspensions are rising again. JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said the district needs to make sure principals are really implementing the reforms.

“I think that’s where we’re going to have to push more,” he said, “is to make sure that school leadership is making it a priority each and every day.”

The reforms include training staff to use alternatives to suspension, such as “restorative practices.” Restorative practices involve counseling students and bringing them together with their peers, and even teachers, to talk out their conflicts. JCPS Chief Academic Officer Carmen Coleman told the board that not all schools are using restorative practices with the same commitment

“That’s not necessarily a slight to school leadership,” Coleman said. “There’s lots of reasons why a school might feel like ‘we’re just not ready.’ It’s a big commitment.”

Pollio said district staff planned to dig into the data to see if they can find out more about why suspensions are rising.

Although black students make up 36 percent of JCPS students, they make up 66 percent of suspensions – the same as last year.

One bright spot – while suspensions rose overall, elementary school suspensions were down.

The same quarterly report noted the district has made progress on hiring more teachers of color, and identifying more students of color for gifted and talented programs.

The report also shows significantly more high school seniors are “transition-ready.” According to the report, 53 percent of seniors are prepared for college or career, up from 38 percent at the same time last year.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.