Black Lives Matter protesters on Tuesday evening interrupted a JCPS board meeting that also saw two board members clash over whether to discuss police presence in local schools in the wake of a fight involving an officer fire a stun gun, arrests of two students and the resignation of a principal at Jeffersontown High School.
Jefferson County Public Schools Board member Chris Kolb asked at the beginning of the meeting that the agenda be amended to include discussion of the Jeffersontown incident, video of which had been distributed via social media in the last few days, but board Chair Chris Brady said state law prohibited such a change on short notice.
Brady’s decision prompted a BLM protester to voice her displeasure, and Brady asked her to calm down.
When the protester continued and others stood up to support her, Brady called for a recess and asked security to escort the protesters from the room. When security personnel approached the protesters, they told the officers to keep their hands away from them, and that they would move on their own.
Chanelle Helm, core organizer of Black Lives Matter Louisville, continued to criticize the board’s decision and the school’s treatment of minority students as the throng made its way toward the exit. Shouting “black lives matter” and “black kids matter,” the visitors left the meeting room minutes later under police escort.
Helm had told Insider before the meeting that the treatment of students that occurred at Jeffersontown was “commonplace” in the district and that JCPS leaders desperately needed to find better solution to solve conflicts among students and staff, focused primarily on restorative justice practices and de-escalation.
“We’re saying we don’t want our schools to be prisons, and they are,” she said, as other members of the group held yellow signs with black lettering that read, “No police violence in our schools,” and “Stop criminalizing children.” The protesters questioned the role of school resource officers.
When the meeting continued, Acting Superintendent Marty Pollio presented results of a JCPS survey according to which 90 percent of staff members felt safe in their jobs, though, only about two-thirds said they would have their children go to JCPS rather than a different district.
The survey induced Kolb to start discussing the Jeffersontown incident, but Brady admonished his colleague to stop raising issues that were not germane to agenda items. Kolb glared at Brady, pointed his finger at him and said, “Chris, you’re going to let me talk.”
Kolb said that he had reviewed four videos of the incident at Jeffersontown and that school staff would have de-escalated the situation if the school resource officer had not interjected himself and escalated the incident.
Kolb recommended that JCPS cancel its contract with Jeffersontown Police Department because, he said, its officers may make some people feel safe in schools, but they do not actually increase safety. He also said the district needed to cancel the contract to hold the officers accountable, in part because failure to do so would send the wrong message to the students.
Audience members, too, addressed the issue. Some agreed with Kolb and said the district should stop punishing students into submission and instead should smash what they view is the school-to-prison pipeline by supporting students, showing them respect and providing them with more counseling.
Others, however, said that removing school resource officers from the schools would make them feel less safe. Jeffersontown instructor Mechelle Wagley said that violence in her 18 years of teaching had increased every year, and that just last week students repeatedly threatened to beat her.
Wagley and some colleagues wore stickers on their shirts that read, “I support my S.R.O.”
The presence of the SRO reduces violence and protects students and staff, she said.
Without the officers, Wagley said, “we’re not safe in that school.”
State intervention, superintendent search
The board on Tuesday also approved, in a 6-1 vote, the district’s response to demands of Kentucky’s top education official that JCPS take immediate actions to correct violations of state and federal laws, including some that protect the health, safety and education opportunities of students with disabilities.
In preliminary findings of a pending state management audit, Education Commissioner Stephen L. Pruitt had written the district a letter saying that Kentucky Department of Education staff had uncovered within JCPS deficiencies including:
- discrepancies related to student transcripts.
- failure to provide appropriate staff for students with disabilities.
- physically restraining students in situations where such restraints were not necessary.
JCPS Director of Planning Dena Dossett told the board that the district already was implementing its corrective action plan, which focuses on establishing proper protocols, providing training to staff and monitoring compliance.
JCPS board member Stephanie Horn said that she appreciated the administrators’ work on the response, but said she was surprised by Pruitt’s letter.
“I am concerned about these findings,” she said. “I take this very seriously.”
When the state will present its final audit is unclear, Pollio said. Possible outcomes include more state oversight that could progress to the state appointing a manager to oversee essentially all aspects of the local school district.
Brady also said that the district had made progress in its search for a permanent replacement for former Superintendent Donna Hargens, who left in July, in part because of the pending state audit.
Brady said that the district has been advertising for the position in state and national education publications, and that it has received some interest. The deadline for applications is Dec. 1, he said, and he hopes to review applications in December and January, interview finalists in February and select a new superintendent in March, though Horn said the board should review that timetable.