LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Jefferson County Board of Education adjourned its business meeting early Tuesday after officers cleared the Central High School auditorium following numerous outbursts during public comment.
Supporters and opponents of school resource officers shared their views during Tuesday’s board meeting, often drawing cheers and jeers from those in the audience.
"It is time to restore SROs in our schools," said Eileen Serke, who also noted the security presence at recent school board meetings.
Diane Porter, the school board’s chairperson who represents District 1, called for a five-minute recess following the outbursts, and security officers cleared Central’s auditorium minutes later.
Tyra Walker, an Exceptional Child Education implementation coach at Robert Frost Sixth Grade Academy, said a woman allegedly threatened a member of her group after sitting in front of them and that an officer’s attempt to de-escalate the situation failed.
Being surrounded by other officers worsened the situation after more than a year of protests following the death of Breonna Taylor, she said.
“All it did was escalate them,” she said.
Walker, who serves as co-chair of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and as secretary of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said she was there with others to voice opposition to school resource officers at JCPS, which has been without such officers since the beginning of the 2019-20 school year.
Louisville Metro pulled 17 LMPD officers from schools because of budget constraints, and contracts with other law enforcement agencies for 11 officers were not approved by the board before the start of that school year.
Walker says she wants to see the district invest in more mental health counselors rather than bringing officers back inside schools, particularly in light of school disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some teachers she has talked with throughout her career have wanted officers to handle behavior issues inside buildings, and she also worries that bringing officers in schools will lead to some students building "rap sheets," she said.
"I just do not agree with SROs and guns in our schools," Walker said. "Our kids have been traumatized."
Students and adults traded a megaphone Tuesday to share their perspectives on school resource officers outside Central High.
Emily Pabon, a senior at Atherton High School, had signed up to address the board during Tuesday's meeting, but instead expressed her views against school resource officers during the impromptu gathering outside Central High.
"I think it's important that all kids are considered in a decision like that," Pabon said. "You have a lot of kids in the schools that come from bad history with authority and trauma with gun violence and all that, and adding a cop into the mix, it wouldn't be a good idea.
"It would just be dismissing their trauma and everything they've had to go through, especially if the police was involved with that."
A half-hour before the meeting began, a group of demonstrators gathered outside the meeting to rally in support of school resource officers in schools.
The group said they wanted to pray for the safety of students, staff and teachers in the district's schools before the meeting. Several of them also planned to speak at the board meeting.
Organizers in support of school resource officers believe its "well past time" to restore a police presence in schools to protect and develop positive interactions with students.
The Jefferson County Board of Education was not scheduled to discuss school security officers during Tuesday’s meeting.
Louisville Metro Police Chief Erika Shields has called for JCPS to bring school resource officers back into schools following the drive-by shooting death of 16-year-old Tyree Smith, who was killed Sept. 22 while waiting for a school bus in the Russell neighborhood. Two other students were injured in the shooting.
JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio, who has said plans to create an internal school security force stalled at the onset of the pandemic, later said he was “very disappointed” that Smith’s death has been used as a catalyst to call for school resource officers at Kentucky’s largest school district.
Board member Chris Kolb, who represents District 2, said Shields was "primarily responsible for the chaos" at Tuesday's board meeting and that three Metro Council members -- Democrats David James and Markus Winkler and Republican Anthony Piagentini -- should also share blame for the disruption.
"These four have tried to use Tyree Smith's horrific death about police in schools, which is a distraction from steps needed to actually reduce violence, which JCPS has been actively taking for several years," Kolb said in a message to WDRB News.
The three Metro Council members sent a letter to Mayor Greg Fischer last week criticizing his response to ongoing violent crime in Louisville. As part of improving relationships between Louisville Metro and JCPS, the three suggested scheduling regular meetings with Pollio, assisting the district deploy school resource officers, particularly in high schools, and coordinating with JCPS to provide greater support for children and teens through the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods.
Piagentini was signed up to speak at Tuesday's board meeting, saying on Twitter that he had planned to speak on "a Metro/JCPS partnership to help our community."
"Never got to speak," he said in the post. "The hecklers veto won and they kicked everyone out. It was total pandemonium. Sad that everyone’s ideas couldn’t have been heard."
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