The timing was surreal.
My good friend and colleague DeWayne Westmoreland was leading KYA’s landmark research effort around alternative programs. DeWayne was visiting alternative programs from Paducah to Prestonsburg. As he walked into one program operated by the local school district, the place was abuzz with excitement. After asking and asking and asking for additional administrative support, finally help was on the way. “We are going to get an assistant principal at last,” opined everyone from the principal to the cafeteria manager.
Additional help at last. Maybe the Board had “found religion” and was going to adequately fund supports for the district’s most vulnerable young people. Or maybe the superintendent had somehow found some extra change in a discretionary piggy bank to ensure that kids in alternative schools were going to learn at high levels. Or maybe a local business had stepped up, realizing that these young people were moving from being students at alternative schools today to the community’s workforce tomorrow.
Well, actually no. Instead, the local daily documented that the high school assistant principal had been charged with a criminal offense for a second time. And in that district, people who got into trouble – whether they were 16 or 46 – were dispatched to the alternative school. Now we know that doesn’t make sense, but hey, some people must find it convenient. And guess what? That is not an isolated circumstance. Instead, we know that across the Commonwealth, it is a common practice to warehouse school employees in trouble in the same way that students in trouble are warehoused.
But that incredulous practice is about to change – with your help and that of the General Assembly. Representative Joni Jenkins – a long-standing champion for students in alternative programs being afforded adequate and equitable learning environments – introduced HB 168. The bill would prohibit superintendents from assigning employees to alternative programs as part of disciplinary procedures. The measure flew through the House Education Committee and passed the House. We are encouraged that kid champions like Senators Givens and Winters themselves have identified this as a practice that needs changing in their good work on behalf of students in alternative programs.
As with many issues on the table this session, education proposals are mired in toxic partisanship. Raising the mandatory attendance age; reforming career and technical programs; and expanding early graduation processes are all solid proposals and actually complement one another. But the tone in Frankfort makes each of them a political hot potato. Let’s make sure that HB 168 is the exception to the gridlock.
So today the ask is clear. Pick up the phone or pull up that email and let your Senator, let members of the Senate Education Committee, and let Senate leadership hear that Kentucky’s more than 45,000 youth in alternative education programs are counting on HB 168 to ensure that their classrooms are led by dedicated professionals and are not simply places for adults behaving badly.