Accountability, Admin, Vision: 2020

Statement on JTown Incident From @JCPSKY Board Member Chris Kolb

Below is the statement that was shared by @JCPSKY Board Member Chris Kolb at the 11/7/17 school board meeting. We are posting it here with his permission. Dear JCPS is collecting opinion letters regarding the JTown incident and SROs in schools, and we will be posting a compilation of them over the coming days. Click here to submit your open letter.

We encourage an open and respectful dialogue on this topic so that the district will be in a position to make the best decisions possible regarding the safety and well-being of our students, ALL students, including those who are most susceptible to the pipeline to prison.

From Chris Kolb
JCPS Board of Education
Member, District 2

Unlike almost everyone else in the city, I have had the ability to watch the video of the entire series of incidents at J-Town High School in their entirety. There are five different video cameras that captured different pieces of the event.

In this case, there was a completely routine altercation between two students in the cafeteria. No punches were ever thrown. The sum total of the physical contact between the two students is one push. The altercation between the two students is something that happens every single day in high schools all over the country. Should kids push each other and argue in an aggressive way? No. Are kids inevitably going to push each other and argue with each other? Yes.

Shortly after this push between the students, one of the J-Town (non-SRO) police officers rapidly escalated the situation, thereby creating a huge disturbance that put several hundred children at risk. Had that officer not inserted himself into the situation, I am completely confident that school staff would have kept the situation under control and de-escalated the tension, as they are very experienced in doing.

Law enforcement is only supposed to intervene when there are laws being broken, not in routine disciplinary matters. This officer clearly violated JCPS regulations by involving himself in a disciplinary matter. The officer’s actions were completely uncalled for and he put kids and JTown staff at risk. The Board of Education approves all contracts with law enforcement, and I will be advocating that the Board cancel our contract with the J-Town police because they violated the contract and, in so doing, put kids and staff at risk.

Definitive research into school discipline tells us that law enforcement in schools is like a security blanket. They make some people feel safer but they don’t actually make the school safer. For instance, one of the speakers at the Board meeting on Nov 7 who works at J-Town related that there are multiple doors open to the school that allow unauthorized people into the building. This is at a school with an SRO. I’m afraid I have to ask, if the SRO can’t even make sure the doors are locked, how effective are SROs? When law enforcement is in a school, we tend to neglect other more important aspects of security, thinking, “The cop is here so if anything happens they’ll take care of it.”

Our agreement with the J-Town Police Department emphasizes that law enforcement in our schools are there to create positive relationships between students and law enforcement. It’s difficult for me to imagine how having police in schools will create a more positive experience for many of the students who had a taser aimed at them or witnessed their friend being slammed to the floor without provocation, pushed, and shoved by J-Town PD officers.

Many people have asked, don’t we have to hold kids accountable for disruptive behavior? Absolutely. But we also have to recognize that kids are going to be disruptive. Some more than others. They’re kids. And there are proven ways to hold kids accountable for disruptive or violent behavior that do not rely on overly harsh and violent mechanisms that rely on excluding kids from school through classroom removals or out-of-school suspensions. Thankfully, Dr. Pollio sees the value in these mechanisms and is fully supportive of them. More importantly, however, what message are we sending about accountability if we completely fail to hold adults accountable for extremely poor and reckless decisions. Incomprehensibly, the J-Town Chief of Police concluded in a matter of a few hours that an investigation into the incident at J-Town was not even necessary, eliminating even the possibility of accountability. This is an inexcusable act of negligence and JCPS simply cannot do business with an organization that does not value accountability. If we did, what message would we be sending kids about accountability?

The sad and predictable irony of having law enforcement in schools is that they often cause the very problems they are ostensibly there to prevent. In this case, extra J-Town officers had been assigned to the school (by whom is unclear) due to a horrific instance of violence that occurred in a neighborhood home to many J-Town students. Watching the video of the incident at J-Town, it is abundantly clear that had those extra officers not been there, that nothing but a routine argument between students with no punches thrown is all that would have happened.

Given the excessive length of this post, I’ll have to leave that for later. However, I have been advocating for alternative and more effective means to make schools safer for over five years, dating to before I was on the Board. Thankfully, JCPS is finally in the process of implementing these strategies in several schools. Unfortunately, they have not yet been implemented in J-Town. I will advocate that J-Town be put on a fast track to implementation. I will not apologize for making decisions based on hard facts, evidence, and research about what is best for kids.

To conclude, I’d like to share an email I received from an expert on these issues. This expert asked that I not share their name for now since they don’t know all the facts about J-Town and they didn’t want to take any chances on their comments being misinterpreted. With their permission, I fused together two of their emails below, adding the second one to make his support for law enforcement clear. (Blanks below represented redacted text.)

Dr. Kolb,

I applaud your efforts in support of a “review” of the current system of local police officers assigned to our public schools. From what I have read, you raise legitimate concerns.

My name is __________. Most importantly, I have close ties to JCPS, with family members working in the District and a grandchild attending an elementary school.

Second, I am a retired lieutenant from the Louisville Police Department (now LMPD), former teacher with JCPS _________.

Due to my wife’s work transfer, we moved to __________ where I served as Director of Security Services for 7/12 years with __________ Public Schools, the largest in __________, at that time serving approximately 72,000 students. While in __________, I earned my doctorate in Educational Administration from __________. I then served as a college professor for 13 years before returning “home” to Louisville, __________.

I just share this bit of background with you because I dealt with some of the issues that arise when contracting with local police agencies to provide security to the schools. So many times, often with the best of intentions, conflicts between law enforcement and public schools create more problems than are solved, including the “loss of control” by the school district over the officers who work for a different agency, often with a very different mission.

I am more in the camp of schools providing their own security, along with establishing a close relationship with law enforcement through reporting of incidents and demanding professional response when called upon.

I urge caution. When a horrific incident occurs in a school or as we have seen this weekend, a church, many will call for an increased presence of armed officers in schools. But, is this what we want for our society?

I want to point out that as a former police lieutenant, I am very supportive of law enforcement. I want to encourage a positive relationship between the various police agencies in our community and the schools within their jurisdictions. My past experiences were “just that” at __________ and __________ High Schools. But, I admit that was several years ago (__________).

Certainly, anywhere in our communities, we would like to have a police officer present when a tragic event occurs (the church this past weekend), but police can’t be everywhere. Even with an officer present (Columbine High) these horrific acts occur.

Best to you in review of the current policy and system.

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