New year, new Jefferson County Public Schools?

·4 min read

Jefferson County Public Schools expects to hit the ground sprinting in 2022.

School board chairwoman Diane Porter outlined last week a schedule of district proposals she's anticipating in the coming months — and it is a lot.

JCPS has been eyeing a few big changes for years, but each time it seems like a proposal is imminent, the board vote gets delayed. So, take this list with a grain of salt.

Up first: new public comment rules. Porter said they hope to have new guidelines around public speakers in place in January. JCPS hasn't had in-person public comment since an October meeting abruptly ended after a shouting match broke out.

Second: school security. Superintendent Marty Pollio said last week he wants to get community feedback in January on "conceptual" ideas to increase security in schools. A board vote, he hopes, will happen by the end of February.

Then we have new start times. Pollio has wanted to flip middle and high school start times with elementary start times for a while, and the research generally backs him on this. But behind a seemingly simple change is a maze of logistics.

Pollio said changing and also staggering start times would help the district operate with fewer drivers. Any kind of change is expected to go to the board by March so families can plan.

And, at long last, we have student assignment. A vote on how the district assigns kids to schools could come in May under Porter's timeline. Please refer to The Courier Journal's investigations into student assignment — The Last Stop and Magnetic Pull — for more information.

A group of security officers tried to calm the audience after some began shouting and disrupted a JCPS school board meeting at Central High School in Louisville, Ky. on Oct. 5, 2021. The issue of placing resource officers in schools has become a hotly debated topic.
A group of security officers tried to calm the audience after some began shouting and disrupted a JCPS school board meeting at Central High School in Louisville, Ky. on Oct. 5, 2021. The issue of placing resource officers in schools has become a hotly debated topic.

Leaning into legal loopholes?

Let's circle back to that school security proposal.

JCPS has been known for its, um, appreciation for a loophole in state law that allows districts to avoid hiring armed school police as long as the state isn't paying for them. (The district stopped using officers in 2019, partially because of police budget cuts and partially because of concerns of racially disproportionate policing.)

Now, it seems as if it found a new loophole to avoid having police, well, "in" schools.

State law requires an officer to be "assigned" to each school. Most interpreted that to mean each campus gets an officer who will be stationed on-campus.

But JCPS is leaning into the "assigned" language, saying a potential plan with armed officers assigned to clusters of schools and stationed outside of the buildings would technically meet the law's requirements.

If so, this would offer somewhat of a compromise: There would be armed officers who could quickly respond to issues, but they would not be a constant presence inside schools.

But it may not be so. Sen. Max Wise, a Republican who shepherded the security bill, told me the bill is meant to have one officer assigned to each campus. JCPS' take would not meet the letter nor the spirit of the law, he said.

"The goal is not for a drive-by officer to come after an incident, but for a resident certified officer to prevent incidents by helping create a trusting and safe school climate, especially for kids who live with trauma every night of their lives," he wrote in an email.

Rep. Kevin Bratcher, a Louisville Republican co-sponsoring a bill to require SROs by August, agreed with Wise's interpretation of the law.

When I initially questioned Pollio's stance that this concept would meet state law, he pushed back before pointing out there is already a shortage of police officers. Where would JCPS find more than 150 officers, he asked.

An Atherton High School 'graduation ceremony'  kicked off the show for hip-hop artist Jack Harlow performs at a sold-out Palace on the first night of his "No Place Like Home" tour, a five consecutive night of Louisville shows throughout his hometown. The Grammy-nominated artist graduated from Atherton High School. Dec. 14, 2021
An Atherton High School 'graduation ceremony' kicked off the show for hip-hop artist Jack Harlow performs at a sold-out Palace on the first night of his "No Place Like Home" tour, a five consecutive night of Louisville shows throughout his hometown. The Grammy-nominated artist graduated from Atherton High School. Dec. 14, 2021

The prodigal son returns

Tell me you grew up in the Highlands without telling me you grew up in the Highlands.

Jack Harlow will go first.

His first in a series of hometown concerts began with a mock graduation ceremony featuring none other than Tom Aberli, his former principal at Atherton.

Thankfully, state education department spokeswoman and Harlow fan Toni Konz Tatman was in the crowd to share the moment, complete with audio of her son trying to convince her that was in fact Aberli on stage.

In an interview with JCPS, Aberli said being on stage wasn't any more nerve-wracking than a typical graduation ceremony.

A photo of Oaklynn Koon hangs on the fence outside of the Mayfield Courthouse on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, on in Mayfield, Kentucky. A large fence surrounds the courthouse with flowers and images of the 74 people who died from a tornado that devastated Mayfield last week.
A photo of Oaklynn Koon hangs on the fence outside of the Mayfield Courthouse on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, on in Mayfield, Kentucky. A large fence surrounds the courthouse with flowers and images of the 74 people who died from a tornado that devastated Mayfield last week.

A tornado update

Recovery continues in Western Kentucky after devastating tornadoes came through earlier this month.

As of Monday, 76 people have been confirmed dead (although three may be double-counted). Thirteen were kids.

I spent much of last week working with a team of reporters to profile the victims. You can read our work here.

Most area school districts, which have become hubs for donations, have temporarily cut off material donations because they've run out of space to store things. You can continue to donate to relief efforts through the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund, and track individual districts on social media for updates on specific donations they need.

Your homework

No homework this week.

Class dismissed. OK, bye.

Reach Olivia Krauth at okrauth@courierjournal.com and on Twitter at @oliviakrauth.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: New year, new Jefferson County Public Schools?

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