Community

Jefferson County Public School officials are declining to discuss gang activity in local schools with a Louisville Metro Council committee.

School officials were invited to do so by Councilman David James, a Democrat from District 6 and chair of the council’s public safety committee. On Tuesday, school officials declined James’ invite.

Earlier this month, James said he’d be calling on police officials to address issues with gangs in Louisville. In a year with a high rate of shootings in the city, James and other council members have highlighted violence as a growing public concern.

Police Chief Steve Conrad and other department leaders are scheduled to address the council committee on Wednesday, according to a spokesman from the police department.

A school spokeswoman on Tuesday said “we felt our participation would be duplicative.”

“We work with the Louisville Metro Police Department in regards to that issue, and that department is certainly the expert,” said Allison Martin, spokeswoman for Jefferson County Public Schools.

Martin said the police department is the “primary source of information” regarding gang activity in the community, including the school system. She said gang activity is not a major problem in the city’s public schools.

But James said he hears complaints of gang activity in schools from teachers, parents and students. And, he said, the absence of school leadership from the council hearing is “very disappointing.”

James pointed to a spike in homicides during 2015 as evidence the community needs to take a more proactive approach to prevent violence.

He said the school district’s “shyness” to discuss the issue is not in the best interest of residents, students and teachers.

“It is a healthy conversation for our school system to have,” he said.

James said in lieu of JCPS, he invited members of the Jefferson County Teachers Association to address the council committee.

Martin said despite school officials and teachers being in the schools everyday, police likely have a deeper knowledge of gang activity in the schools.

“The Louisville Metro Police Department is certainly aware of any issues that would be present in our school system,” she said.

Martin dismissed the notion that declining an invitation to address the council committee calls into question the district’s transparency.

“Jefferson County Public School system has always been and will continue to be transparent,” she said.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.