LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (WDRB) – A member of the Jefferson County Board of Education hopes to continue discussions soon about creating a school safety board for Kentucky’s largest school district.
Board member Linda Duncan, who represents District 5 and has often supported plans for school safety officers in Jefferson County Public Schools, says she would like the board to schedule a working meeting to resume talks on starting a school safety team at JCPS that was previously without School resource officer since the 2019/20 school year.
“I think we are as good as done with the directive,” she said in an interview on Friday. “We spent several months working on the guideline we wanted to use to structure our own police force and I think it is as good as ready to be on the board.”
Duncan’s comments come days after Erika Shields, Louisville Metro Police Chief, said she would “lean on the board of directors” at JCPS to help build an internal security team.
Talks about creating a force of armed school security officers at JCPS stalled at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, causing the district to close classrooms for about a year. The 2021-22 school year is the first since the pandemic began when JCPS schools hold face-to-face classes on traditional schedules.
“We are dealing with a very difficult gang problem in the city. Many of our gang members go to these schools, ”Shields said during a press conference Wednesday after a drive-by shot at a bus stop that killed 16-year-old Tyree Smith, an Eastern High School student. “… Without dedicated school resource officers trained to identify gang members, identify potential conflicts, and conduct this constant communication, we lack critical intelligence.”
JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio, who also spoke at the press conference, said the district’s administration was ready to make their recommendation to create a school security guard before the pandemic broke out, but said he was unsure whether such officials would have prevented Smith’s death .
“We will talk about this with our board of directors,” said Pollio.
JCPS was without school resources officers after the Louisville Metro caused budget constraints to recall 17 LMPD officers from schools and re-enter regular patrols and contracts for 11 officers from other local law enforcement agencies to deny the JCPS board after a separate vote exist.
According to WDRB News records, on September 14, the district had 215 internal school security monitors on staff or as deputies.
Kentucky school districts are required to have armed officials at each school as soon as resources and qualified personnel become available by law, despite a bill tabled by Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville for the 2022 legislature, put such officials in the schools would still demand the available money and staff by August 1st.
Kentucky School Security Marshal Ben Wilcox’s 2020-21 annual report showed that 43% of schools across the state had officials on their campuses.
District 2 board member Chris Kolb took offense at Shields when he used Wednesday’s press conference about Smith’s death to press for JCPS security officials.
I am utterly disgusted that it took @LMPD Chief Shields less than six hours to cynically use the murder of a child to press for non-safety and further marginalization of black students. Shameful and reprehensible. https://t.co/3KFrNhGXtI
– Chris Kolb 🧰📚📝🌹 (@cmkolb) September 22, 2021
“I am utterly disgusted that it took LMPD Chief Shields less than six hours to cynically use the murder of a child to press for non-safety measures and continue to marginalize black students “wrote Kolb on Twitter. “Shameful and reprehensible.”
But Duncan said she appreciated Shields’ support for school security officers at JCPS.
“I was glad the police chief brought that up because I think she thought so, too,” Duncan said. “We lost that connection, that Intel connection that we had in the past, with what was going on in the community, what we needed to know in school, maybe to stop activities that might harm others.”
Duncan noted that two board members – Sarah Cole McIntosh, who represents District 7 and Joe Marshall, who represents District 4 – were not on the board for the 3: 3 vote that blocked contracts for 11 school resource officers.
Appointing a school safety team when the board adopts such a policy would be a challenge for a school district already struggling with staff shortages. Officers would also need hours of training before they could be used in schools, Duncan said.
“I think our approach would be to provide officials we could hire and bring them to our schools who show the greatest need for that support,” she said.
McIntosh said in a message to WDRB News that JCPS would face “serious logistical hurdles” in recruiting candidates as the LMPD was already understaffed.
Violence across the Jefferson County community “is not something schools can fix on their own,” she said.
“Those of us who have been in education for years have been raising the alarm about the mental health of young people,” said McIntosh.
“Whether it’s trying to keep young people from making bad decisions or giving students the opportunity to respond healthily when they are themselves exposed to indirect violence, that must be the focus of our conversation. Officers can play an important role in this work. It is important to understand that we cannot simply ‘police’ our way into a peaceful community. “
The board is due to meet again on October 5th.
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