Fayette County school board members have asked district staff to study whether Martin Luther King Jr. Academy for Excellence, an involuntary program for students who pose discipline problems, should be revamped.
Students may be placed at the facility on Liberty Road because of behavior issues at other schools, with the goal of returning to the original schools.
At a meeting last week about the student code of conduct for 2015-16, board members noted that students who have committed offenses of various levels of severity are together at MLK. And there is possible disparity in that some students with lesser offenses are kept in the program longer than students whose behavior leads to expulsion from regular schools.
"Should there be a different structure at MLK?" board member Daryl Love asked.
In response, acting superintendent Marlene Helm said district staff would take a "deep dive" into MLK.
Staff members developing the 2015-16 budget already are reviewing whether programming should be changed at MLK to reduce costs.
In October, there were 223 students in sixth to 12th grades at the school, according to the district's website.
In addition to the daytime program for students who are placed at MLK because of behavior issues at other schools, the academy has a computer-based credit-recovery program for middle school students who are more than two years behind and night school for students who work but want to pursue their high school diplomas, according to the district website.
MLK Academy opened during the 1999-2000 school year.
School board members have called for years for additional alternative programs for students who can't stay in their assigned schools because of their behavior, chairman John Price said.
The district's Fayette Equity Council has been working with the local Children's Law Center since at least 2010 to avoid legal action against Fayette County Public Schools over what the center saw as disparities in discipline.
The center's litigation director, Rebecca Ballard Diloreto, said there "should be a different structure" at MLK.
"Split the middle and high school. Establish a parent and community advisory board for each program ... develop extracurriculars at the middle and high program, beyond boxing," Diloreto said. "Upgrade the academics taught there; reduce the standard time children are made to stay for disciplinary purposes with a performance contract that provides real support; consider having a girls' and a boys' program for middle and high with staff focused on intervention and the teaching of behaviors.
"Forbid staff to cuss, be physical or rude to the children; ensure all staff are trained in how to work with children who have mental health issues, have suffered from trauma, have learning disabilities, are angry and need more supports than families can provide.'
Children should not be cut off entirely from their original schools except in the most severe cases, she said. The students need to stay connected to extracurricular activities at their original schools.
Diloreto said trained counselors and volunteer mentors should work with students to develop successful transitions back to the students' original schools, and the mentors should remain connected with students.
Diloreto said the school board, in helping MLK, should use the "abundance of expertise and resources in our community. "
Additionally, she said the board should make the administration examine the race disparities at MLK and develop a plan for ending them.
School officials last week said there had been improvements, including that Faith Thompson, the district's director over MLK, makes sure administrators at regular schools have made significant attempts to deal with students' behavior before recommending they go to MLK.
Meanwhile, the school board is drafting the district's 2015-16 student code of conduct.
The proposed rules include that students cannot use photos to engage in cyber-bullying.
And the rules say students cannot take photos that convey "a meaning of harm, humiliation or intimidation."
Name calling, stories, jokes, pictures or objects that are offensive to a person's sex, sexual orientation or gender identity would be prohibited.
The same would be true for material that is offensive to a person's race, color, national origin, religion, disability or age.
Students also would not be able to have toy weapons or laser pointer devices while on school property, while on a school bus or while attending a school-sponsored or school-related activity.