This could be the last year Jefferson County Public Schools will have school resource officers, according to a proposal up for a vote at next Tuesday’s school board meeting.
SROs, who are police officers contracted from multiple law enforcement agencies, would continue to be in JCPS schools for the 2018-19 school year, but the contracts would end after that school year, the proposal says. Instead, JCPS will use an in-house security force that would be under the control of the district instead of an outside agency.
A Division of School Security would be created in the district, with officers reporting to a Chief of School Security and the superintendent, according to the proposal, which was drafted following a review of law enforcement in JCPS. Each middle and high school would have a school security officer, and each officer would support a few elementary schools, the proposal says.
For the upcoming year, JCPS will pay around $769,965 to the Jeffersontown Police Department, Louisville Metro Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and St. Matthew’s Police Department for a total of 37 officers, according to the contracts.
JCPS is not increasing the number of SROs this year, Assistant Superintendent of School Culture and Climate Katy DeFerrari said.
The change aligns with the desires of community members who have protested the district’s use of armed police officers, who the district didn’t have authority over, for nearly a year.
“When SROs are under the authority of LMPD, JCPS is not in charge,” said Carla Wallace with Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice, one of the multiple community organizations against SROs in JCPS. “Any security team must be accountable to JCPS.”
Several community members protested the use of SROs last November after two students were arrested when multiple officers became involved in a fight at Jeffersontown High School. After the school’s officer called in backup, Jeffersontown officers tased and tackled one of the students to the ground.
In the days after the incident at Jeffersontown High School, JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio ordered reviews of how the school handled the incident. In response to the reviews, officers will receive increased training in restorative practices and de-escalation. JCPS also “adjusted” standard procedures for dealing with “events.”
Training depends on the agency the officer is coming from, but each officer tends to have 40 hours of in-service training each year. All officers attend an SRO basic certification course, DeFerrari said. Only some of the agencies require cultural diversity training.
The district offers an additional 16 hours of orientation training, plus monthly sessions on specific topics including culture and climate and trauma-informed care, DeFerrari said.
Incidents like the one at Jeffersontown disproportionally affect minority students, leading students to negative experiences with officers and the court system, those against SROs say. The new JCPS plan is designed with the “inherent goal of equitably reducing school-based arrests and citations,” the agenda item says.
One benchmark district, Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Fla., has seen “significant” decreases in student arrests since implementing a similar program, a document attached to the agenda item said.
Schools with SROs tend to have more minor offenses entering the court system, said Chris Harmer, Louisville chair of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. The system leads to more students, specifically African-American males, entering the school-to-prison pipeline.
“Bringing sworn, uniformed, weapons-carrying officers into schools on the face of it makes the school feel less safe to some of those students,” Harmer said.
As sworn police officers, SROs “wear the uniform and equipment standard for a police officer,” DeFerrari said.
Black Lives Matter members protested at the JCPS board meeting following the incident, prompting a clash between board members on the use of SROs. Board member Chris Kolb attempted to bring up the Jeffersontown incident, but then-board chairman Chris Brady tried to stop him as the incident was not on the agenda.
At the meeting, Kolb said school staff would have been able to de-escalate the situation without the SRO intervening, which could have avoided much of the fight and the students’ arrests. He asked to cancel the contract with the Jeffersontown Police Department, but some said the SROs make them feel safer in schools.
Black Lives Matter core organizer Chanelle Helm said this week that it’s “insensitive to think” students need outside discipline from officers. Funding for SROs could be used in other ways to help students, including restorative justice training and therapists to support students with trauma, she added.
“If adults who are in charge of students learning become intimidated by students’ behavior or hearsay of behavioral traits, then they shouldn’t be teaching,” Helm said in an email. “The nature of support doesn’t change once our kids step on school property and neither does their trauma.”
Community members continued to discuss SROs at board meetings for months after the Jeffersontown incident, asking JCPS to remove them from schools, consider alternatives or continue the contracts.
Last August, the SRO contracts passed the Jefferson County Board of Education 6 to 1, with board member Chris Kolb voting against the contracts. In January, another SRO contract with Louisville Metro Police came up, again passing 6 to 1, with Kolb against.
The number of SROs in JCPS schools has grown during the past five years, DeFerrari said. Louisville Metro Police added five during that time, and Jeffersontown added one.