LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools will be without school resource officers when the 2019-20 school year begins next week.
The Jefferson County Board of Education voted 3-3 on contracts with the Jeffersontown Police Department, Shively Police Department and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office for 11 school resource officers, meaning the contracts were not approved during Tuesday’s meetings.
Board Chair Diane Porter voted with members Chris Brady and Linda Duncan to approve the contracts worth $375,000 while Vice Chair Chris Kolb voted with members Corrie Shull and James Craig against the contracts in the split vote.
The decision leaves JCPS without school resource officers at any of its schools after the Louisville Metro Council approved a budget that recalled 17 Louisville Metro Police officers from JCPS schools and back into regular patrols.
JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said the district could ramp up its plans to hire an internal security force. The proposal for an internal security force hasn’t been formally put before the board for approval, but it would call for nine security officers to patrol two school each at the beginning of the school year and the addition of seven more in January before drastically increasing its ranks by 40 ahead of the 2020-21 school year.
“It’s going to take some significant work and some funds,” said Pollio, who was unavailable for comment after Tuesday’s meeting.
It’s unclear whether the contracts will be brought back before the board when the District 4 seat vacated by Ben Gies is filled in September.
Those who voted against the contracts say school resource officers do nothing to improve safety at schools or prevent mass shootings while those who supported the contracts worried that the lack of security at schools could leave them vulnerable or ran against the wishes of school administrators.
“We all want to do something, but I’m sorry, if somebody comes to school with an AR-15, there’s nothing an SRO is going to do to stop them, and that’s why an SRO has not prevented a school shooting this year,” said Kolb, who asked that the school resource officer contracts be pulled from the board’s consent agenda and voted on separately.
Board members against police in schools have said their presence can have harmful ramifications on minority students, particularly in their sense of belonging inside schools and the chance that they could ultimately face criminal charges for minor offenses.
“I must go on record stating my concern with having any individual have engagement with our students who are not accountable to the board or to the superintendent,” Shull said. “I also can’t support anything that increases the rates of justice involvement for our most vulnerable students.”
But others said schools need officers to keep them protected, especially in the face of mass shootings.
Board member Linda Duncan, who left the meeting in tears after the split vote, said 74 guns and other weapons had been taken from students in the last school year and that leaving the responsibility of recovering those weapons to staff was “not responsible.”
“The thought of having those in the building with no one else there to be able to meet a threat if somebody decides to start firing those guns, it’s unacceptable to me,” she said. “I can’t imagine leaving our schools defenseless.”
Porter and Pollio indicated that the decision might not be the most popular one with administrative staff at JCPS schools, although their polling methodology differed.
Porter said she asked a random selection of principals at District 1 schools whether they supported having a school resource officer. All of them answered yes, she said.
Pollio said an internal survey of middle and high school principals showed that 75% of respondents answered with four or a five on a five-point scale on whether they supported having school resource officers in their schools.
For Porter, her decision was based on the realities of her district.
“Maybe you have neighborhoods with no issues, but that is not the case in District 1, and I have to be responsive to the fact that I have schools that are surrounded by gangs,” Porter said. “I have schools that have drug houses within walking distance of the schools.”
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