LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- As cities throughout the U.S. begin reexamining the role of law enforcement in response to widespread demonstrations brought about by the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, movements toward removing police from schools are gaining momentum in urban school districts.
Minneapolis Public Schools cut ties with the Minneapolis Police Department on June 2 after four officers there were charged in the death of Floyd, with the officer who knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes facing second- and third-degree murder charges.
Portland Public Schools followed suit two days later, and teachers unions in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin, have called on their school districts to take similar action in recent days.
Jefferson County Public Schools lacked school resource officers for the 2019-20 school year after Louisville Metro Police returned its 17 SROs back to patrols due to city budget constraints and contracts with law enforcement agencies for the remaining 11 school officers weren’t approved following a tied board vote in August.
And while the Jefferson County Board of Education is moving toward hiring an internal security team, policies have not yet been approved as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the closing months of the 2019-20 school year.
Whether the current protests in Louisville and throughout the U.S. against police violence toward black people shifts those draft policies – which call for 100 hours of annual training, nondescript uniforms and district-issued handguns, among other items – remains to be seen.
There’s currently no timetable to bring policies governing school security officer before the school board for approval, said Renee Murphy, the district’s communications director. Superintendent Marty Pollio has advocated for an internal security team to replace resource officers in recent years, saying they would be accountable to the district for their actions rather than their law enforcement agencies.
She noted that days before Gov. Andy Beshear called for schools across Kentucky to close in response to COVID-19, the school board held a March 10 community forum where the district’s school security plan was a topic of discussion.
“We want to continue to get feedback from the community and have some more conversations with our employees, too,” Murphy said Tuesday.
Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said the union that represents some 6,000 JCPS teachers has not taken a formal position on whether the district should proceed with its plans for an internal security team.
“But we do believe that a district team makes more sense than outside law enforcement,” he said.
Quintez Brown, a rising junior at the University of Louisville and a 2018 graduate of duPont Manual High School, has been demonstrating in Louisville every day since thousands took to the streets to voice their frustrations with how black people have been policed throughout the country, at times with fatal results.
“We are really having a shift in our narrative about policing, and here in Louisville after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and David McAtee, people here are really starting to say is policing really the best way forward,” said Brown, who’s involved with Black Lives Matter Louisville and UofL’s Youth Violence Prevention Research Center.
While Brown said JCPS is moving in the right direction in terms of removing police from schools, he believes arming school security officers will represent “a step back in the wrong direction.”
“Security should not be our goal here with the security force,” he said. “Safety should be our goal. More police does not equal safety. More guns in school does not equal safety. We need to really look at where we can best put resources to better serve our students at JCPS.”
Some board members who spoke to WDRB News said they’re not sure when school security policies will come for a vote.
Reopening for the 2020-21 school year will take precedence as JCPS and other districts deal with new public health guidance in the aftermath of COVID-19, which will likely change how instruction is delivered when classes resume.
“Given the challenges we face as a result of coronavirus and nontraditional instruction, Dr. Pollio has not asked the board to vote on a proposed security force,” James Craig, who represents District 3, said in a message to WDRB News. “As our efforts are focused on how to reopen safely, I don’t anticipate seeing the proposal up for a board vote for some time.”
Though he declined to say whether he still supported moving ahead with an internal security team, Craig said he believed the board’s vote against renewing the remaining SRO contracts and “end policing of its own students was the correct decision.”
Joe Marshall, who represents District 4, and Chris Kolb, the board’s vice chair who represents District 2, were among those who signed a letter urging Beshear to veto this year’s Senate Bill 8, which required school officers to be armed. Beshear signed SB 8 into law Feb. 21.
Like Craig, he said reopening schools will take precedence over the district’s school security plan.
“We just have some other things to focus on right now, so I really don’t have much of a comment on where it’s going to go and what it’s going to look like,” Marshall said.
Others on the board expressed their support for the district’s development of a team of internal school security officers.
Chris Brady, who represents District 7 and isn’t running for reelection this year, said he understands why some don’t support putting officers in schools, but he believes they’re necessary to handle situations like students who bring weapons into schools.
“We have to understand that there are a lot of things that come into our schools from the outside that teachers and administrators aren’t always well trained to be able to deal with,” Brady said, adding that officers will receive better training on school-related issues like trauma-informed care.
Linda Duncan, who represents District 5, also sees a place for officers in schools. The board has been “very thoughtful” in its development of policies governing its school security officers, she said.
“As long as there are guns coming into the building, we need to have an officer there who can meet whatever threat that might happen,” Duncan said.
“The need to call the police to our buildings is not going to go away,” she added. “It would be nice if suddenly nobody assaulted anybody else, if nobody brought weapons to school. That would be wonderful, but that is not going to go away.”
If Brown and other like-minded advocates hope to unarm school officers in JCPS and elsewhere throughout Kentucky, they’ll need legislative action to undo the law passed just this year.
Sen. Max Wise, a Campbellsville Republican who sponsored SB 8, said he’s heard nothing from legislative leaders about reconsidering the issue in the future.
“I still believe that our schools are a safe place to be, and I think that parents have an expectation of their children to be in safe walls,” said Wise, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “If JCPS feels like they have to address that particular issue, then Superintendent Pollio can speak to us as legislators.
“But I do not see us going back and revisiting that particular type of law once it’s already been signed by the governor.”
For Brown, he believes the demonstrations will inspire participants to be more politically engaged at all levels of government.
“We’re coming with demands, and not a single one of the demands is saying we need more bullying, we need more guns in our schools,” Brown said.
“I think this is definitely going to get more people engaged and more bold in their demands, more bold in what they want to see in their schools and their communities,” he said.
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