LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Latanya Collins spent three years working as a mental health practitioner at Jefferson County Public Schools.
Entering her fourth year at Kentucky's largest public school district, she decided to make a career change. Collins is now one of 60 new school safety administrators assigned to JCPS schools, part of the district's comprehensive security protocols implemented during the 2022-23 school year.
"I think safety's big. I've got three kids of my own," Collins said Wednesday outside Crosby Middle School. "... I'm ready to lead the charge to make sure our kids and staff are safe here at Crosby Middle School."
Collins is among 60 school safety administrators assigned to every middle and high school throughout JCPS. Another six share responsibilities for elementary schools.
Matt Anderson, executive administrator of school culture and climate at JCPS, said the district has 66 school safety administrators on staff.
"We're excited that our safety administrators are going to be in the buildings to support our kids as a resource around safety and as a person that they can trust and develop a relationship with to go to them if they have an issue of safety," Anderson said.
School safety administrators like Collins will work to ensure schools comply with district, state and federal policies, primarily threat management, safety drills and security measures at schools, he said.
"If there is a threat or a situation that may arise throughout the day or after school hours, this person is going to be here to develop a safety plan and support that," Anderson said.
"There's a lot of training that goes in with all of these drills, with all of these requirements from the state and federal government around safety, and so we want to make sure that this person is not only trained, but they can also be a trainer and make sure everyone in the building is trained and up to speed on the latest and greatest around safety in our buildings."
They will also be tasked with building relationships with students and staff. As a former mental health practitioner at Crosby Middle, Collins has a head start in that regard.
"They've got that trusted adult here," she said. "If they see something going on in their neighborhood, if they see something going on here at school, they can come and talk to me."
While school safety administrators work primarily inside buildings, the district has a team of about 30 school safety officers and monitors assigned to cover geographic areas centered around high schools.
Safety administrators will "collaborate with our local security and JCPS to make sure if additional resources are needed in the building, that we have that and that our students are safe," Anderson said.
Collins said keeping Crosby's staff safe is her first priority in response to serious threats.
"Then I go through the proper safety procedures that JCPS has outlined for me, which is making sure I call the appropriate numbers to get who I need here, whether it be an SSO or an outside officer," she said.
The district's push to boost security at schools comes as JCPS has seen more students referred for weapons offenses than recent school years, according to data obtained by WDRB News.
JCPS students were referred for weapons infractions 621 times during the 2021-22 school year, nearly twice as many times compared to the 327 behavior referrals for weapons offenses during the 2019-20 school year before district closed schools in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 327 weapons referrals issued to JCPS students during the 2019-20 school year was an escalation from the previous two school years, records show. JCPS students were referred for weapons infractions 223 times during the 2018-19 school year and 88 times during the 2017-18 school year, according to records provided in response to a request by WDRB News.
JCPS students were issued 137 referrals for possessing knives with blades 2.5 inches or longer during the 2021-22 school year, the most per records obtained by WDRB News. Another 87 referrals were issued for knives with blades shorter than 2.5 inches, and 34 referrals were given for possessing handguns, according to district records.
Those figures are all higher than the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 school year, records show. Students were referred for possessing knives 125 times in total that year, and 28 handgun referrals were issued during the 2019-20 school year, records show.
Crosby Middle students were referred for weapons infractions seven times during the 2021-22 school year: three for knives with blades 2.5 inches or longer, one for a knife with a blade shorter than 2.5 inches and three for noxious substances. That's up slightly from the five referrals issued for Crosby Middle students during the 2019-20 school year and six from the 2018-19 school year.
If a weapon is found in a student's possession inside JCPS schools now, school administrators will continue to follow the district's student support and behavior intervention handbook, Anderson said.
"This position is separate from what a traditional administrator would do, and we've made it very clear that anything in alignment that would have to do with the administration of our student support and behavior intervention handbook would rely on our (assistant principal) in that traditional role," Anderson said.
Still, Collins is prepared for the worst at Crosby Middle. Twenty-seven school shootings have occurred so far in 2022, according to data from Education Week.
"Our building would be able to exit and evacuate quickly," Collins said. "Our students and staff know that we've got two places that they can evacuate to."
District weapons referral totals for the previous five school years, excluding the 2020-21 school year in which JCPS mostly used remote learning, can be found here:
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