LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - New reports obtained exclusively by WAVE 3 News through a series of open records requests show more than 600 security investigations have been conducted at JCPS schools so far this school year.
This latest Troubleshooter investigation was prompted after a recent round of violence at JCPS schools, including a teacher at Seneca High School being bashed in the head with a glass beaker and the principal at Iroquois High School being attacked by students twice in two weeks.
WAVE 3 News reached out to others who lived through violence at schools themselves.
“They had my hair, they had my clothes,” Sharita Bransford said. She was a guidance counselor at Jeffersontown High School in 2017 when she said she was assaulted while trying to prevent a fight between two female students.
“I was slammed into lockers and walls,” she said. “I could do nothing.”
WAVE 3 News also spoke with Tamera Collins, who was one of the last people a gunman talked to before shooting another student at Fern Creek High School in 2014.
“I guess I was naive in that you never think it could happen to you,” Collins said.
Both women said the violence in JCPS schools is real. But just how bad is something WAVE 3 News Troubleshooters set out to uncover by filing a series of open records requests. That’s when the district provided a report showing more than 600 security investigations so far this school year. The investigations included 81 reports of students being out of control, 21 calls about assaults and 16 others for drugs or narcotics investigations.
When it came to questions about guns, WAVE 3 Troubleshooters had to ask, and ask again after receiving an email from the district’s open records department stating “JCPS Security has only seized 1 handgun this year.”
But WAVE 3 News’ own reporting proved otherwise. A different JCPS spokesperson later confirmed that three firearms had been found on school grounds before a gun at Ballard High School added to the total.
Those numbers, however, weren’t even the big picture.
Another report requested by WAVE 3 News showed a total of 15 reports of handguns related to schools in which students were disciplined, whether the gun was found on school grounds or not. One such example of those reports was described in a citation obtained from a source. The citation states a student took a gun to Doss High School before deciding to skip class and go home. When the Sheriff’s Office went to that teen’s house, deputies not only found the gun, but also ammunition. That citation was not included in that JCPS email since the gun was not seized on school grounds.
“We’ve kind of built this narrative that says Jefferson County Public Schools are out of control,” School Board Member Corrie Shull said. “That’s not necessarily true.”
Shull said cellphone videos and social media paint a more dramatic picture of the district, not the actual data.
But data reported by the Kentucky Department of Education shows the number of assaults reported to the state increased from 773 in the 2017-2018 school year to 1,175 in the 2018-2019 school year. The number of weapon events also spiked, during the same time period, from 88 to 220.
The concern is currently heightened after the JCPS school board decided to end the contracts for school resource officers to create its own security force. That, some told WAVE 3 News, is leaving school staff to deal with the problems.
“We’re going to have fights, SROs or no SROs,” Shull said.
Shull explained the data does show that minority students are the ones adversely affected by SROs in schools, criminalizing children unnecessarily.
That’s something the former head of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office SRO program, Vernon Brown, said isn’t fair.
“Our last resort is to arrest a kid,” Brown said. “In some cases, we have to step in on that, but we have so many other resources.”
Another reason to eliminate police officers from schools, some board members said, is that they didn’t want to see schools turned into prisons.
But imagine the surprise when WAVE 3 News obtained a copy of a recent email sent to “All Metro Corrections” asking jail correction officers to take off-duty jobs at a number of JCPS schools.
Shull responded that state law requires some sort of security at schools.
“We’ve got to get people to fill these jobs, but when people who have served as corrections officers pick up extra hours in JCPS, to JCPS,” Shull said.
The email included the pay rate of $240 a day. The information stunned the Sheriff’s Office, which told WAVE 3 News it offered to keep its deputies in the schools for free until the end of the year.
Shull said he didn’t know that offer, but when asked if he would have accepted it, he still said no.
“It is about accountability,” he said, explaining that those corrections officers would have to respond to the JCPS superintendent.
Shull said he’s been disappointed in the actions of SROs before, and that his vote was to make those SROs answer to JCPS, not a chief or a sheriff.
“How are you talking to the student? Are you being aggressive with the student? Does that escalate?” Shull asked. “If it escalates, that’s not what we’re after.”
Brown said they have positive relationships with the students, serving as mentors, friends and protectors while being realistic about the dangerous situations students and teachers can face.
He pointed to the fact that more than 20 percent of the city’s homicide suspects are juveniles.
“We know what we do each and every day,” Brown said. “To take that away, I think that’s a threat not just to staff members, but also to students in that school.”
Both Sharita Bransford and Tamera Collins said it was the SROs who saved them.
“If it was not for Officer Mattingly,” Bransford said, “I don’t know what would have happened because no one else came to help me.”
“He’s the one who smelled the gun powder going up the stairwell the day of the shooting,” Collins recalled. “He’s the one who locked the school down so quickly. If it wouldn’t be for him, being able to lock it down that fast, I’m sure it could have been much worse than what it was.”
The concern over violence is something that keeps Brown and both women up at night.
“We go into those schools each and every day and we sign ourselves up to take on anything that walks in that door that’s going to try to hurt one of those kids,” Brown said.
“What happens?” Collins said. "Do we have to wait until someone gets killed for things to change?
“We are not expendable. You can’t put a price on those types of things.”
The JCPS Security Force is supposed to be fully implemented by February. To the date of this report, WAVE 3 News has not received any written policies or procedures for how school staff, teachers and administrators are supposed to interact with the new security force. The district responded to that open records request by providing the student manual.
WAVE 3 News also found out that some schools are paying for SROs out of their own budgets. At Iroquois High School, WAVE 3 News learned the principal asked the Sheriff’s Department for help. The Sheriff responded by providing the school with two deputies for free.
The Sheriff’s Office also said JCPS never asked it about its nationally recognized SRO program and the things they are trained in, like de-escalation and restorative practices, the very things Shull said he wants to see with the new security force. They said they’d welcome a sit-down with school board members to show them how their SROs are trained.
Facts WAVE 3 News uncovered:
+ There have been 15 reports of handguns in school which resulted in JCPS students being disciplined
+ There have been 115 reports of weapons within the first 47 days of the current school year, including knives, pellet or BB guns and handguns
+ There have been more than 640 security investigations conducted at JCPS Schools so far this school year, including 15 investigations for firearms possession, 21 reports of assaults, 81 reports of students out of control, and 16 drug and narcotics investigations
+ Metro Corrections Officers were solicited to take off-duty, JCPS Security shifts at 15 JCPS Schools at a rate of $32 per hour or $240 a day, per an email exclusively obtained by WAVE 3 News
+ The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office offered to keep their SROs in schools until the end of the school year on their own expense, the district declined
+ The JCSO is providing Iroquois High School with two SROs for free after the principal asked for help
WAVE 3 News is still awaiting a copy of any written protocols and procedures for school staff and administrators in relation to the new JCPS Security Force