Kentucky's largest public school district says it is appealing the state's attempt to seize control of the system

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s largest public school district is appealing the state’s attempt to seize control of the system.

News outlets report that the Jefferson County Board of Education voted Tuesday to appeal a recommendation for the county’s school district to be placed under state management. The district is now eligible for a hearing before the Kentucky Board of Education.

Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis announced the takeover decision April 30, after a more than yearlong audit of the governance and administration of Jefferson County Public Schools, which includes Louisville. The district has more than 100,000 students, making it one of the largest public school districts in the country.

If the takeover is approved by the Kentucky Board of Education, it would strip all authority from the elected school board and give it to Lewis, the state’s chief school officer. Lewis said he would allow Marty Pollio, the district’s current superintendent, to operate the district while monitored closely by Associate Commissioner Kelly Foster. The school board would continue to meet “in an advisory capacity.”

In making his case for a state takeover, Lewis cited an abundance of low-performing schools and the serial abuse of students in the district. He noted embarrassingly large achievement gaps between black and white students. Although more than 60 percent of white high school students in the district were proficient in reading last year, just 32 percent of black students met the same standards. In math, 46 percent of white high school students were proficient compared with 18 percent of black students.

Also, interviews with more than 800 teachers, board members, students and others unearthed claims of “serial abusers” in the schools, including inappropriate physical restraint. Interviews with school staff said they had never seen a student restrained inappropriately, but central office staff members said they had knowledge of “illegal prone and supine restraints being used.”

The audit found district officials failed to act on substantiated reports of abuse unless details surfaced in local media.

The takeover attempt drew waves of criticism from some parents and teachers worried district decisions would be dictated by officials in Frankfort, not by the local school leaders. Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, called it “essentially a hostile takeover” of the district.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has stressed that changes are needed in the state’s largest school district, but he has endorsed the “phenomenal job” done by its new superintendent. Bevin has said politics has nothing to do with the takeover attempt.