JCPS central office building gets new sign

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools may repurpose nine in-house security monitors at the start of the 2019-20 school year in light of Louisville Metro’s decision to pull 17 school resource officers back into regular patrols.

The proposal, set for discussion at Tuesday’s Jefferson County Board of Education work session, is part of a broader plan from the district to hire its own school security force ahead of the 2020-21 school year, pending board approval.

The plan, if approved, calls for JCPS to assign nine of its security monitors who patrol in the evenings to cover two schools during the day at an estimated cost of $287,000, according to board documents for Tuesday’s work session. That amount includes insurance coverage for up to 48 officers and funds to hire support staff.

Officers have a year to complete 40 hours of training and two years to complete the remaining 80 hours. Training includes classes on assessing threats, de-escalation strategies, working with students with special needs, trauma-informed care, and diversity and bias. JCPS plans to provide additional training on things like restorative practices, equity and implicit bias, and the district's Student Support and Behavior Intervention Handbook, board documents show.

The district would then hire seven additional officers to patrol the remaining middle and high schools in January and another 40 before the start of the 2020-21 school year to provide coverage for all middle and high schools and support for elementary schools, according to board documents.

JCPS estimates the plan to staff its own security force will ultimately cost nearly $5 million, which includes money for equipment and vehicles.

But it’s unclear whether those officers will be armed if the proposal advances.

“We want to get feedback from our board members, so that’s all going to be a part of the discussion next Tuesday,” JCPS Communications Director Renee Murphy said, adding that the timing of a board vote has not been determined.

Arming school security officers has become a divisive issue for some on the school board as the district contemplates staffing its own security force.

Attorney James Craig, who represents District 3 on the school board, supports the concept of JCPS staffing its own security force, but he doesn’t want officers carrying firearms in schools. In fact, Craig believes school security personnel hired by the district shouldn’t wear uniforms that resemble those worn by police.

“We’re a school district, not a police department, and everything that we do should have some type of support, either statistical or research-based, to suggest that it’s going to work,” Craig said. “… I don’t see compelling research to suggest that armed police officers are going to prevent security risks inside of buildings. I see research that suggests the opposite.”

For Linda Duncan, a retired JCPS teacher and administrator who represents District 5 on the board, having armed security at schools is “an absolute necessity.” She worries that if school security officers can’t carry guns, the district will have a hard time recruiting experienced applicants for the jobs.

“We would love to have retired officers, but if they think that they’re not going to be armed, they’re not interested,” Duncan said. “That has to be clarified for us to even recruit the people we need.”

Corrie Shull, a pastor who represents District 6, supports hiring a security staff that’s accountable to JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio and the school board but not arming them. But from his perspective, whether security personnel carry weapons isn’t the major issue facing the school board in this decision. Instead, his main concerns include how those security officers interact with students, cutting the number of JCPS kids involved with the criminal justice system and ensuring schools feel less like prisons. 

“There is no data that suggests that what we have been doing is the best way to accomplish school security,” Shull said.

He also supports Craig’s idea that JCPS security personnel not wear uniforms similar to law enforcement officers if the school board moves forward with the proposal to hire a districtwide security force.

“I think that the police officer’s uniform invokes fear in many of our young people,” he said.

That sentiment of fear was expressed by 12-year-old Chaniya Simmons, an Olmsted Academy South student who was with her family at an event at Valley High School on Thursday.

"I don't feel safe around them because I don't know exactly what they will do because they actually do kill kids," she said, referring to police. "I don't want to die."

Valley is among schools that lost LMPD school resource officers after the Metro Council passed the city's budget. In April, the school's resource officer at the time, Tony Sacra, stopped and arrested a suspended student as he was walking toward Valley's campus with a loaded revolver and a box of ammunition in his pocket, ultimately earning Sacra recognition by the school board.

Diane Porter, a retired JCPS teacher and administrator who chairs the school board as District 1’s representative on the board, told WDRB News that she needed to hear more information about the proposal before forming an opinion on whether school security personnel hired by JCPS should be armed.

She noted that JCPS administrators have visited two school districts that have their own police forces and that she’s been in contact with another district that does not arm its security staff for insight on the issue. The two school districts visited by JCPS officials – Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Fla., and Austin Independent School District in Austin, Texas – have their own armed police forces.

“When seeing guns, it creates a different reaction to different people, and I think that we honestly have to have that conversation,” Porter said in a phone interview.

“But we also honestly have to have the conversation about the environment, the safety environment, whether it’s inside the building or directly outside the building. What do we do based on the data, the absolute data that we have for where some of our schools are housed?”

Porter says she needs to also hear from people who work in schools, particularly principals, about whether security staff should be armed.

From his conversations with constituents, community groups and teachers, Craig says he hasn’t spoken with a single person who supports arming security staff in JCPS schools.

But reactions from principals have been “mixed,” he said.

“I was struck by one particular principal in my district who was clear that (she) did not want armed security personnel inside of her building unless she could make the hiring decision,” Craig said. “Principals need to have control over their buildings, and when we cede an important aspect of the educational process to outside agencies, those principals lose the authority that they need inside of their buildings.”

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