Advocacy groups investigating Louisville disability suspensions

This is a graphic in the shape of Kentucky with its flag inside.

Kentucky Protection and Advocacy filed a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education on May 20 alleging that Kentucky’s largest public school district discriminates against students with disabilities in its disciplinary procedures.

Describing the Jefferson County Public School District as containing “vague and ambiguous discipline procedures,” Kentucky Protection and Advocacy, along with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Children’s Law Center, aims to make “systematic changes” to the process. Specifically, it is pushing to require Jefferson County to provide district-wide training in “Positive Behavior Interventions”, revise its school code of conduct and improve tracking and review processes for analyzing school discipline data, according to a Kentucky Protection and Advocacy news release.

The complaint also highlights especially disproportionate disciplinary trends in the school district’s alternative schools, according to an article in the Louisville Courier-Journal . The district’s no-tolerance policies are portrayed as particularly counterproductive.

“There is an overall question of fairness and whether the treatment of these students is appropriate,” said Rebecca DiLoreto, litigation director of the Children’s Law Center, in the Courier-Journal. “But there is also a question about Jefferson County’s overall use of discipline as a way to push these students out of school and into the criminal justice system.”

In the 2008-09 academic year, students with disabilities, who consist of 16 percent of the district’s student population, consisted of 38 percent of the total suspensions.

The legal advocacy groups filed the complaint, on behalf of six students, after failing to negotiate settlement with the school district. They recently reached a settlement with the Fayette County School District, the state’s second largest, and are negotiating settlements with eight other Kentucky school districts.

The complaint also alleges that the school district’s disciplinary process discriminates against students of color.

Kentucky Protection and Advocacy is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.