Security personnel encouraged Black Lives Matter protesters, including Chanelle Helm, center, to leave the JCPS board meeting in November 2017. | Photo by Boris Ladwig

Jefferson County Public Schools appears poised to continue using school resource officers next school year, delaying a plan to bring security efforts in-house for at least a year.

SROs are police officers and report to those agencies instead of district officials. An in-house team, as initially pitched, would be in the district’s control — a necessary move, advocates said.

Kentucky’s largest school district introduced the plan to discontinue using SROs and create an in-house security team for the 2019-20 school year last August. No school board vote was taken, and the plan was tabled for more analysis.

Months later, JCPS says it wants to delay changes until the 2020-21 school year to “continue analysis, receive additional input and revisit options,” according to a document to be presented at a school board work session next week.

Instead, it appears the district could continue to use SROs for the 2019-20 school year, despite continued protests from social justice advocates. An in-house team, or another plan, could be implemented for the 2020-21 school year, the document says.

JCPS spokeswoman Renee Murphy said Monday that the decision to renew SROs contracts with local police agencies would be up to the school board. In recent instances, SRO contracts have passed the school board by a 6 to 1 margin, with vice chairman Chris Kolb voting against. Two seats have switched since the last contract approval, potentially shifting the vote.

Murphy noted the district’s plans are “fluid” based on a school safety bill working its way through the state legislature. Seeking to harden and soften schools, the bipartisan Senate Bill 1 calls for both more SROs and more mental health supports for students.

Community advocates from groups like Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools and Louisville Showing Up For Racial Justice have been pushing against police in schools for over a year, speaking frequently at school board meetings and holding signs in protest.

Carla Wallace of Showing Up For Racial Justice said in an email Monday that “it is outrageous that in the face of all the evidence and public concern, that JCPS would continue business as usual with police in the schools.”

“This is a total contradiction to the JCPS commit to the racial equity process just adopted, and will undermine all efforts to move closer to equitable schools for all children,” she added.

Wallace and Chris Harmer of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools were partially included in discussions over the past year to develop a new security plan.

District officials, after talking with peer districts using in-house methods instead of SROs, seemed ready to nix SRO contracts, Harmer said. But now that appears to have reversed, leaving Harmer wanting officials to rethink their fundamental approach.

JCPS’ racial equity analysis protocol, a process developed to check the equity of policy, should be applied to any security plan, he said. Additionally, teachers should receive more de-escalation and trauma-informed care training, and schools should have more mental health practitioners for students instead of more police, he added.

Using police in schools seems “antithetical” to JCPS’ focus on racial equity and restorative practices, Harmer said.

Under the in-house proposal, every middle and high school would receive a school security officer, with elementary schools sharing officers. The officers, likely retired police, would report to a Chief of School Security and the superintendent.

But key plan details were unclear in August. Officials didn’t know if the new school security officers would carry weapons as SROs do, or if they would have arrest powers.

Both unknowns concerned social justice advocates. Increased police presence in schools can hurt already traumatized or minority students, who may have already had negative interactions with police in their home lives, they said. SROs could also introduce students, especially black boys, to the court system at an early age and start them on a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

New academic research backs those assertions, according to a report from Chalkbeat, suggesting a police presence in schools negatively impacts student achievement, especially that of black boys.

Racial equity appeared to be a focus on the in-house team, with the plan designed with the “inherent goal of equitably reducing school-based arrests and citations,” according to the August agenda item. Peer districts analyzed by JCPS had seen “significant” drops in student arrests after bringing security efforts in-house.

Wallace said they planned to attend the school board’s Feb. 26 work session when they’ll discuss school security, and March 12, the next regular board meeting. “The battle is not over,” Wallace said Monday.

JCPS is also asking the school board to consider additional resources for its Security and Investigations Unit, which investigates criminal activity in the district among other things, for next year. While many in the unit are retired police, they do not regularly patrol schools like an SRO.

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Olivia Krauth
Krauth reports on education in Louisville, including JCPS, the University of Louisville and state policy. Before joining Insider Louisville, she covered technology and business as a reporter at TechRepublic. She also spent time on the data team at the Austin American-Statesman in Texas as a Dow Jones intern. Krauth graduated from UofL, where she was an award-winning editor of The Louisville Cardinal and obtained a degree in investigative journalism with a minor in Russian studies. Email Olivia at [email protected]