LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Members of the Jefferson County Board of Education continued their discussions Tuesday on policies governing school resource officers as the district moves toward hiring an internal force of officers.
Tuesday’s work session grew heated at one point as members talked about whether the officers should be armed with guns, which has been a point of contention for some on the board.
Board member Linda Duncan, who represents District 5, worried that board members would be considered “laughing stocks” if Jefferson County Public Schools doesn’t allow its internal security force to carry firearms, which she said would be a “soft approach” to protecting students.
Other school districts in Kentucky, she said, have armed SROs in their buildings.
“I think we have got to be very realistic about the issues that are coming into our buildings,” she said. “We want officers who are, yes, fully trained and able to de-escalate, but we want them to be officers.”
Chris Kolb, the board’s vice chair who represents District 2, pushed back against Duncan’s criticism that not having armed SROs would be a “soft approach” to school safety. Giving SROs access to deadly weapons made him “nervous,” he said, though he indicated that he might support them carrying nonlethal weapons.
Other factors have a more meaningful impact on fostering safer environments in schools than having armed officers patrolling their hallways, he said. The fact that there are guns confiscated in JCPS schools reflects the prevalence of firearms in American society, he said.
“The fact is that people that want police armed have no, that want people in schools armed have no factual basis, have no credible basis other than their personal preference,” Kolb said, noting that he sent his fellow board members research on effective ways to improve school safety that has not been rebutted within the past year.
“Personally, I’m not really concerned at all what people think about me,” he added. “I’m not concerned what other school districts think. I’m not concerned what law enforcement think, and honestly I’m not all that concerned what many people in the public think because many people have uninformed views on this. I’m concerned with what I know is going to make our schools safer.”
Nothing was decided at Tuesday’s work session, though most school board members seemed in agreement that SROs should wear casual uniforms. Only Duncan said she wanted them to dress like police.
The push for JCPS to hire its own SROs accelerated after the Louisville Metro Council passed a budget that recalled 17 officers from schools and back into regular patrols. Before the start of the school year, a split board vote left the remaining contracts with police departments to provide 11 SROs unapproved.
The board approved a new temporary project manager position Sept. 10, with that person tasked with setting up the department and hiring and training the first class of SROs for JCPS. Superintendent Marty Pollio said he expects the district will announce a hire in that role by the end of the week.
Chris Brady, who represents District 7, said he wanted to hear the project manager's perspective on the weapons issue and how that policy could impact recruitment, particularly for those who have law enforcement experience.
JCPS plans to employ a force of about 50 school resource officers, with the first round of hires originally expected to begin training in November, according to a timeline presented Tuesday.
However, Pollio said the policies governing SROs might not be presented to the board for approval until its November business meeting rather than Oct. 15 as outlined in the district’s timeline. The jobs cannot be posted until the board passes SRO policies.
Some board members also directed to district to solicit feedback from school communities, including students, as SRO policies are drafted.
Pollio told reporters after the meeting that he hoped the first set of SROs will be assigned to schools by Feb. 1 as originally laid out in the district’s timeline. He noted that the board's policy committee would also give its input on the drafted SRO policies.
“Hopefully we stay on the same timeline, but we’ve got to make sure, as you heard board members say, get a lot of input from stakeholders,” Pollio said. “So we’ve got some added tasks to take on here from our feedback session tonight.”
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