Education

Jefferson County Board of Education members weighed in Tuesday night about what they think a JCPS internal security force should look like when school resource officers (SROs) return to the school district.

It’s an issue the school board has been wrestling with since the city pulled LMPD officers serving in JCPS this summer. Just before school started, in a split vote the school board ended contracts with other local police departments — and the school year started without police present.

Superintendent Marty Pollio has since been pushing forward long-standing talks to establish a new security force that answers directly to JCPS. Tuesday night, the school board shared their input on what roles police officers should take in schools, what uniforms they may wear and what weapons they may carry. 

Many board members reiterated positions they have taken in past board discussions about SROs. The purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was to receive board feedback, not to take a vote. Here are notable quotes from the meeting:

James Craig: “We’re a school district. We’re not a police force.” Craig said he does not want SROs “to appear to be police officers,” and he emphasized that he does not want to criminalize minor offenses and contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline.

Chris Kolb: “I think there is a general sentiment that we do want to do something that is not what we’ve done in the past.”  Kolb said he is in favor of SROs dressing casually, that he is “nervous about having someone in a school building with a deadly weapon” and suggested calling school resource officers by another title.

Chris Brady: “We have a lot of people who are focusing on education. I want these folks to focus on protection, protection of our students … with an educators’ mindset.” Brady said he wants SRO uniforms to be distinct and not easily replicated. He did not take a position on arming SROs, saying “that’s a tough decision and it’s not something I’ve decided on one way or another.” In regard to equipment, Brady said he does not think the force needs squad cars.

Joe Marshall: “Our students do not need to be policed; they need to be educated; they need to be protected.” Marshall said he does not want SROs to be able to use seclusion or restraint on students, a disciplinary tactic that JCPS has come under fire from state auditors for over-use on students with disabilities. Marshall said he agrees with previous members’ comments on uniforms and equipment.

Linda Duncan: “I don’t see how we expect to stop someone who is armed with somebody who just looks like a counselor.” Duncan said she disagrees with other board members when it comes to arming SROs, and argues board members will be seen as “laughingstocks” by other Kentucky school districts if JCPS officers are not armed. Duncan said she is against “this soft approach.”

In apparent response to Duncan’s comments, Kolb said he is not concerned about what other school districts think. Kolb said he has based his opinions on extensive research on the effects of SROs.

“And honestly I’m not even all that concerned what many people in the public think, because many people have uninformed views on this,” Kolb said.

Diane Porter: “The primary focus for me is the security of our students and staff.” Porter requested more documentation about how other school districts handle security, more data on safety incidents within JCPS and information on alternatives that JCPS is already employing in schools without SROs.

Board member Corrie Shull did not give his opinions on the SRO program, but he voted against renewing SRO contracts before school started and has argued those officers don’t make schools safer in the past.

One of the first tasks to create an internal security force will be to hire a project manager to help develop the program. The SRO project manager will serve in a temporary full-time position from October through June, and will have the responsibility of starting up the program.

Several board members said they would like to see the district take more input from principals, teachers, students and parents. Superintendent Pollio said JCPS staff will work to gather more community input before any vote on the SRO proposal returns to the school board, likely in November.

Pollio is proposing a timeline that would put SROs back in Jefferson County schools by February 2020.

Liz Schlemmer is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.