Education

The Jefferson County Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday night to expand the district’s police presence and bring armed school resource officers into the district for the first time since 2019.

The security plan will add 30 “school security officers,” or SSOs. These are armed law enforcement with a “school resource officer” certification from the state. That means they have at least 40 hours of special training for serving school communities. JCPS’ plan would require 60 hours of annual training for their officers.

Each officer would be assigned three to seven middle and high schools. Each of the district’s three alternative schools will have its own officer.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said the SSOs would not be regularly patrolling the hallways but would remain nearby to respond to crimes and emergencies.

“What we don’t want though … is necessarily them standing in the cafeteria, monitoring a cafeteria and performing discipline acts that an administrator should perform,” Pollio said.

In addition to the 30 armed police, JCPS would also hire a “safety administrator” for each middle and high school to build positive relationships in the building and keep an eye out for safety concerns. Elementary schools will share safety administrators among a few schools.

Pollio said neither the officers or the safety administrator will be responsible for student discipline.

District 6 board member Corrie Shull supported the plan and called it a “compromise.”

“I think it’s something that everyone can support—something that will keep our buildings safe and something that will not contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline,” Shull said.

Shull was among a number of members who voted to drop contracts with local law enforcement agencies for SROs in 2019 over concerns about how Black and brown students were being policed.

Since then, the district has faced pressure from state lawmakers in Frankfort and some local leaders and parents to bring armed police back into school buildings.

JCPS attorney Kevin Brown said he believed the plan “meets that standard” laid out in the 2019 school safety law, which required every public K-12 school to have a school resource officer, “as funds and personnel become available.”

District 5 board member Linda Duncan voted for the plan but said she didn’t think it went far enough.

“I think officers need to be steps away from violent threat, not blocks away from violent threat,” Duncan said.

District 4 member Joe Marshall also voted in favor of the plan but expressed frustration with the pressure put on schools to deal with violence happening outside school walls. 

After the shooting death of 16-year-old Tyree Smith at his bus stop, Louisville Metro Police Chief Erika Shields called on JCPS to expand its police presence.

“Many of our students live in places where they don’t feel safe,” Marshall said. Which is why, he said, sometimes students bring guns to school.

“It’s not coming from a place where they are looking to harm,” he said.

As members voted, the boardroom at the VanHoose Education Center was empty except for reporters and a handful of district staff. It was an unusual sight for a vote on one of the most controversial issues for the district. The board hasn’t allowed public comment since an October meeting, where comment over SROs boiled over into a shouting match and law enforcement became concerned about violence.

Pollio said he thought the board had allowed for a “significant amount of public input,” and pointed to the focus groups the district organized and the virtual town hall the district held in which viewers could text in questions or comments on the proposal. 

Pollio said the 66 safety administrators would be in place by the beginning of the next school year, and that the district would begin advertising for the school-based police positions “pretty quickly.”

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

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.