Education

The Jefferson County Board of Education will vote Thursday evening on a plan to expand its law enforcement body and hire a team of school resource officers, or SROs. The plan would bring armed school-based police officers into Jefferson County Public Schools for the first time in three years.

The vote comes as the district faces mounting pressure from lawmakers in Frankfort and some parent groups to increase police presence in schools. 

Here’s what you need to know.

The basics of the plan

Under the plan, JCPS would hire a team of 30 “school security officers,” or SSOs, who would each be assigned to a cluster of three to seven schools. The officers would be trained and have their “school resource officer,” or SRO, certification from the state. That means they would have special training for school environments. The officers would be armed with a gun, as required by state law, and would have arrest powers. 

In addition to the 40 hours of annual training mandated for SROs by the state, JCPS’s SSOs would be required to complete at least 60 hours of yearly training in a number of school-related topics including implicit bias, de-escalation, bullying, trauma-informed care and interacting with students with disabilities. 

The SSOs would report to the district’s Security and Investigations Unit, JCPS’ law enforcement agency.

The district’s three alternative schools—schools for students who struggled in other K-12 settings—would each have a dedicated SSO.

JCPS district staff say the SSOs would not be regularly patrolling the halls, but would spend their time outside school buildings patrolling the nearby area and remain at the ready should school staff call them into buildings to respond to crimes and emergencies. The district says SSOs would not be responsible for student discipline. 

Under the plan, JCPS would move the district’s current 15 “security monitors” into SSO positions. Many of the district’s security monitors are already certified law enforcement officers, but would need additional training to become SSOs. JCPS plans to add 15 new positions to reach a total of 30 SSOs.

In addition to the SSOs, the plan calls for each JCPS middle and high school to have its own “safety administrator.” This would be an unarmed school employee who manages safety-related issues at the school, keeps an eye out for possible threats, and, in JCPS’s words, works to build a positive school culture and climate. 

The district says the proposed security plan would cost $7.3 million a year. That would cover salaries for 30 SSOs, 66 safety administrators and additional expenses for cars, uniforms, equipment and insurance.

Why now?

JCPS is facing mounting pressure from lawmakers in Frankfort and parents, local leaders and some students who say they want a police presence in schools. 

Many Black parents and students, however, are opposed to bringing back SROs. They’re concerned that police make some students of color feel unwelcome and may lead to discriminatory law enforcement practices at school.

“Of all the controversial issues that we have faced together in the past four years, this is one of the most challenging,” a district document explaining the plan reads.

Historically JCPS contracted with local law enforcement agencies to provide SROs. But in 2019, the Louisville Metro Police Department pulled its 17 officers from JCPS schools due to budget issues and staffing shortages. Then the Jefferson County Board of Education voted not to renew contracts with other local law enforcement agencies for the remaining 11 SROS. Board members pointed to research showing that police presence leads to criminalization of student behaviors, especially for Black, brown and low-income students. 

Some members expressed interest in creating a force that answers to the district, rather than to local law enforcement agencies. 

JCPS released a proposal just before the pandemic struck that would have created a force of unarmed SROs. State lawmakers quickly changed state law to require all SROs to carry firearms. Talks then stalled. District officials say the pandemic was to blame.

“We were in the middle of having more community dialogue about school safety when COVID hit. The pandemic limited our in-person options to talk to community members,” the district plan reads.

The school security issue picked up steam again after the shooting of 16-year-old Eastern High School student Tyree Smith at his bus stop. LMPD Chief Erika Shields said it highlighted a need for police presence in JCPS. 

Meanwhile, in Frankfort, Republican Rep. Kevin Bratcher has filed a bill that would require each school campus to have an armed SRO. 

The Jefferson County Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the school safety plan at 5 p.m. Thursday at the VanHoose Education Center. There is no opportunity for public comment. The board hasn’t allowed in-person public comment since October, when comments over SROs boiled over and law enforcement said they were concerned about possible violence.

The public can attend in person or stream the meeting on the board’s YouTube page.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.