LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools has handed down discipline in hundreds of cases when students have possessed weapons, though it’s unclear exactly how many have been confiscated on school campuses based on data obtained by WDRB News.
Student behavior incidents involving weapon possession jumped 150% from 88 in the 2017-18 school year to 220 in 2018-19, according to data provided by JCPS in response to an open records request. Disciplinary measures taken against students in the district had dropped every year from the 95 incidents reported in 2015-16 before last year's steep rise.
Through the first 47 days of the current school year, behavior incidents involving weapon possession total 116, the data show. If that rate holds through the end of the year, about 432 weapon possession incidents will be reported to the district.
WDRB News previously requested data showing the numbers and types of weapons seized from students on JCPS campuses, but the district denied that request Aug. 21 and said its data is maintained by behavior incidents.
JCPS says data provided Tuesday in response to a subsequent open records request by WDRB News doesn’t necessarily reflect incidents that occurred on school campuses, however.
“Please note that the data responsive to this item relates to each incident where a student was disciplined related to possession of a weapon,” Amanda Herzog, the district’s open records coordinator, wrote in an email Tuesday to WDRB News. “Not all of these weapons were found inside our schools, and in some cases, multiple students were disciplined for joint possession of one weapon.”
For instance, that could mean some students posted images of weapons on social media rather than possessing them at school.
James Craig, who represents District 3 on the Jefferson County Board of Education, says that happened at one middle school, which he declined to identify, when a student posted a picture of a suspected firearm on social media this year rather than bringing a firearm into the school.
Four weapon possession incidents involving handguns were reported at three middle schools so far this year: Crosby, Noe and Ramsey.
“Instead of brushing that under the rug, we treated it like the security concern that it might be and reported it and classified it as such when in fact almost none of the administrators or teachers in that building even knew about the incident or were alarmed genuinely by what happened,” Craig said in a phone interview Wednesday.
Another incident involving a handgun reflects the point that multiple students have faced discipline for an incident involving a single weapon. Craig said that was the case when five incidents of students possessing handguns were reported at the Academy @ Shawnee in the first 47 days of the current school year.
“It was reported five different times because five students were involved with respect to that one incident, so that, to me, suggests that we’re going above and beyond in reporting this data and not trying to hide it,” he said.
Not every behavior incident yielded weapons despite being classified as possession by students.
While data show that 14 behavior incidents involving handgun possession have been reported so far this school year, JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said only one has been found on a school campus. A Seneca High School student was arrested for having a gun in their backpack Aug. 30.
“There have been some other lookalikes and things like that that we’re always concerned about, but the more we educate our kids and our families about reporting any safety issues, the better off we’ll be,” Pollio told WDRB News.
Students were disciplined for possessing handguns 18 times in the 2018-19 school year, one more than 2017-18, according to JCPS data. Nineteen handgun possessions were reported during 2016-17, the most in recent years.
Of the 116 weapon possession incidents so far this year, the most, 26, involved knives with blades less than 2.5 inches long. Other incidents reported this year include:
- 20 involving knives with blades larger than 2.5 inches
- One involving a destructive device
- 12 involving pellet, BB or air guns
- Four involving stun guns or Tasers
- Four involving noxious substances
- One involving a blunt object
- 10 involving replica or toy guns
- 21 involving “other” objects
Of the 220 weapon incidents last year, 66 involved possessions of larger knives and 54 involved possessions of smaller knives. Other incidents reported in the 2018-19 school year include:
- 24 involving pellet, BB or air guns
- 11 involving stun guns or Tasers
- 16 involving replica or toy guns
- Two involving a noxious substance
- Two involving blunt objects
- 12 involving “other” objects
- The use of weapons in 17 incidents, which included four stun guns or Tasers, two larger knives, two blunt objects and a smaller knife
The prevalence of weapons available to students in JCPS demonstrates broader societal issues in Louisville and beyond, school board members say.
“Where are these weapons coming from?” said board member Linda Duncan, who represents District 5. “It just seems to be easier for them to get them.”
It’s an issue that other urban school districts like JCPS are grappling with, Pollio said.
“Unfortunately sometimes the schools, we reflect some of the problems that we have in our community,” he said. “I think that’s been talked about a lot, but we’re constantly working to support kids and make sure that that doesn’t happen and keep our schools safe.”
“This is not just an issue that’s in this community alone,” Pollio added.
Opinions vary on what, if anything, should be done to ensure weapons stay out of JCPS schools.
Duncan pointed to the recent removal of school resource officers – the city pulled 17 LMPD officers from JCPS schools and a split board vote nixed contracts for the remaining 11 officers from other local law enforcement agencies – as a possible reason that some students might feel emboldened to possess weapons.
As the district works to develop its own force of SROs, Duncan stressed her belief that those officers should be armed.
But data obtained by WDRB News show that during school years with SROs, the officers themselves didn't handle most incidents when students were suspected of possessing weapons.
Last year, for instance, the district reported that SROs were involved in just 18 of the 220 weapon possession incidents, or 8.2%. In 2016-17, SROs were involved in 12 of 88 such incidents, and they handled 23 of 93 total weapon-related behavior incidents in 2015-16, according to district data.
And last year’s 150% spike in weapon possession incidents happened while 28 uniformed officers patrolled some of the district’s schools.
Duncan suggested that giving some families the option of sending their children to middle or high schools closer to home rather than having them bused to other schools throughout Jefferson County, as the Student Assignment Review Advisory Committee has recommended, might result in shorter walks to and from bus stops for students who feel like they need to bring weapons for protection in such situations.
Guardians should also face some consequences if their kids are found with weapons, she said.
“Parents have to be held accountable in some way for what’s happening, and I don’t know how we do that,” Duncan said.
Craig, however, said the growing number of weapon possession incidents shows that JCPS is already tackling such situations head-on.
“Even though we have coded instances of handgun-related behaviors, we do not have actual security risk with respect to student-to-student incidents or student-to-teacher incidents involving handguns this year, and it’s rare in the last five years that there have been any such incidents,” he said. “So far as I know, there’s only been one gun discharged inside of a JCPS school building in the last 10 years.”
“It says to me that we are doing a lot, and perhaps as much as we can, to deal with the ongoing security challenges of these issues,” he added.
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