Education

JCPS officials have drafted preliminary plans to hire an internal security force of school resource officers. But that plan ultimately must be approved by a school board that appears ready to re-imagine what a police force in its schools might look like.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio and district officials presented school board members with an update Tuesday evening on the district’s efforts to comply with state’s new school safety law — which passed during the last legislative session as Senate Bill 1.

The plan to hire more SROs comes in response to two measures: the Louisville Metro Police Department’s announcement that it will reassign 17 of its officers currently serving in JCPS due to budget cuts; and the ambitious goal in Senate Bill 1 for every school in the state to be served with one SRO, “as funds and personnel become available.”

“It’s my job as a superintendent to make sure we’re moving toward statute, like Senate Bill 1,” said Superintendent Marty Pollio. “And if that [funding] comes at the next session, if that comes based on our budget, I’ve got to make sure that I’m developing a plan.”

Pollio laid out a potential timeline for hiring more SROs:

  • August 2019: reassign nine JCPS nighttime security officers as SROs covering two schools each; continue contracts with Jefferson Co. sheriff’s office, Jeffersontown Police Dept. and add contract with Shively Police Dept. to cover an additional 13 schools in those jurisdictions;
  • January 2019: hire an additional seven SROs to cover the remaining middle and high schools in the district;
  • 2020-2021 school year: hire an additional 40 officers to put one SRO in every middle and high school in the district who will also support nearby elementary schools, at an estimated cost of more than $4 million.

District officials presented one potential plan to receive input from school board members.

Board member Chris Kolb said he thinks it’s likely the board will approve an internal security force, depending on the details.

“It just depends on how we set policy to determine what they do, what they’re responsible for, what their job responsibilities are, what weapons they do or don’t carry, what uniform they do or don’t wear,” Kolb said.

School board members came to the meeting prepared with a long list of questions about the proposal, and their concerns sketch the outlines of what they might ultimately approve. Here are some of the questions discussed Tuesday night:

How Would JCPS School Resource Officers Be Trained?

Commissioner Alex Payne of the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training described the statewide SRO training schedule as 40 hours of specialized training, on top of a minimum 20 week training at the state police academy to become a sworn police officer.  The statewide SRO-specialized training consists of topics including: defensive tactics, a firearms refresher, diversity training, youth mental health awareness, social media cyber security and understanding students with special needs.

In addition to the state’s training, JCPS Chief Academic Officer Carmen Coleman described possible in-house professional development on: implicit bias training, trauma-informed care, restorative justice practices, district behavior policies, bullying, cross-cultural communication and identifying students with special needs.

Would JCPS School Resource Officers Carry A Firearm?

Several board members, as well as audience members silently carrying protest signs, brought concerns about whether JCPS SROs would carry guns.

Liz Schlemmer | wfpl.org

Several community members attended the school board’s work session to quietly protest hiring more police officers to serve in schools, including Carla Wallace (right) of the organization Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ).

Board member Linda Duncan asked if the language in Senate Bill 1 assumed SROs would carry a firearm.

“Oh yeah,” said Commissioner Payne, adding that he did not know of any sworn police officer in the state who does not carry a firearm when acting in their official capacity.

Other board members pushed back on this point further, asking if the requirement to carry a firearm is explicitly written in Senate Bill 1. JCPS General Counsel Kevin Brown answered that it does not.

How Would JCPS School Resource Officers Dress?

Board members James Craig and Chris Kolb questioned whether SROs would be required to wear traditional police uniforms.

“For some students who walk into a school building, to see a person in a uniform is a traumatic experience,” Kolb said. “Because of their relationship with police of certain communities, because of their immigration status, because of their parents’ immigration status.”

Craig asked whether the district could plan to end any contracts with the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections to place security personnel in schools.

“I’ve had concerns that I’ve articulated in the past about having officers in a building with a Metro Corrections uniform on — kinda paints a negative image with respect to the [school-to-prison] pipeline,” Craig said.

What Information Has JCPS Gathered To Support This Proposal And Its School Safety Plan?

Board chair Diane Porter asked whether the district could conduct a risk assessment of crimes and threats outside of school buildings, to take into account the neighborhood in which each school is located. Porter also asked whether Superintendent Pollio had surveyed principals on their preferences for security in their own buildings; Pollio said he had consulted some principals and Porter requested a formal report on principals’ opinions.

The school board is expected to vote on contracts for SROs serving at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year at its regular meeting on August 6.

Liz Schlemmer is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.