Louisville Courier Journal
Published 3:46 PM EST Jan 13, 2020
When students are kicked out of prestigious magnet and traditional schools in Jefferson County, they're likely to be black and poor.
Students who last year faced school-initiated "exits" — meaning they were kicked out for behavior issues, low grades or poor attendance — were disproportionately black and poor, according to new district data received by The Courier Journal.
Black students make up a little over one-third of JCPS, but accounted for over half of magnet exits last year. Conversely, white students made up one-third of exits while being 45% of the district.
And over three-fourths of kicked-out students are living in poverty — more than the roughly 62% of the district's kids qualifying for free or reduced lunch.
The disparity means disadvantaged students are less likely to access some of JCPS' most lucrative — and often top-performing — programs and the opportunities that come with them.
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James Craig, a board member representing eastern Louisville, said exiting creates an uneven playing field.
"If you're privileged and you don't have the disadvantages that come with being a (free-and-reduced-lunch) student, you're less likely to lose the opportunity that these programs present," Craig said.
But the practice may end soon, as the JCPS board weighs potentially prohibiting magnets from exiting students.
Over 1,000 students lose their seats in magnet and traditional schools and programs each year. About one-third of those are school-initiated.
"(It) is problematic, obviously, to me," Craig said of the disparities. "If it's not problematic to anyone in our community, then you should reconsider the way you're approaching these issues."
Opponents to the exit system point to the fact that non-magnet schools can't kick out or expel students, meaning they can't pick their students and must educate all and deal with all behaviors.
More: 'Racialized tracking' is denying Kentucky's black students gifted classes
Behaviors that could get a kid kicked out of a magnet, Craig said, would likely get them suspended at a different school. Both see black and poor students disproportionately impacted.
Magnet schools are often application-based, but the criteria to get in can range from merit applications to luck-of-the-draw lotteries.
In traditional schools, for example, classrooms are relatively racially diverse. But their students often skew richer and are less likely to live in poverty and to be dealing with its challenges.
Traditional schools, which require parents to apply to a lottery for a spot, are among those that exit students the most.
Butler High School, Johnson Traditional and Jefferson County Traditional Middle all forced out at least 4% of their entire student population last year, according to district data — the highest percentage.
Even more students left after their parent initiated the exit, which sometimes comes after nudging from school officials.
Parents and alumni of traditional schools like Louisville Male High School argue the exit system is what allows them to uphold the traditions of strict discipline and high academic standards.
Hundreds flooded a recent JCPS survey about an array of proposed changes to magnet schools and how the district assigns students, begging officials and board members to keep school-initiated exits.
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"No way, no how," one person said of eliminating school-initiated exits.
"At some point you have to be able to separate students who want to learn and be successful from those that are just in school because they have to be," another wrote.
Another said that by prohibiting exits, "you are failing countless students" — not students being removed, but those whose education they were allegedly disrupting.
Students in Craig's wealthier district are disproportionately represented in classrooms at Male and Manual high schools, along with other respected schools. But his job is make the best decisions for the entire county, he said, and all of its students.
"Our decisions need to be based on what is in the best interest of every student," Craig said, "and a decision that protects the privilege that these magnet and traditional schools have received to date benefits some students to the disadvantage of others."
The JCPS board is scheduled to discuss the proposed changed to magnet school policies at its meeting Tuesday evening.
Reach Olivia Krauth at [email protected] or 502-582-4471, and on Twitter at @oliviakrauth. Support strong local journalism by subscribing: courier-journal.com/subscribe.
How to attend the meeting
The Jefferson County Board of Education will discuss potential changes to the district’s magnet programs during a work session scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, followed by its full meeting at 7 p.m. Both meetings will take place at the VanHoose Education Center, 3332 Newburg Road.