By Ryan Clark
After weeks of working with the Department of Justice, city commissioners agreed Tuesday to move forward with an agreement to station a police officer in Holmes Middle and Holmes High School.
In March, the Covington Independent School Board voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with the Covington Police Department to provide an officer for the Holmes campus for the school year for $80,000, which was necessary after the county sheriff pulled out of its agreement with the school for the year.
But Mayor Joseph U. Meyer and city commissioners were concerned about just what their police officers could and could not do — and when — if a dangerous situation arose.
“In November, 2015 the U.S. Department of Justice contacted the Covington Independent Public School District advising that it had received complaints from unidentified individuals regarding the disciplinary practices of the School District, including use of exclusionary discipline, restraint, seclusion in the schools and the circumstances under which District staff were calling on (student resource officers) to respond to student misbehavior and violations of the student code of conduct,” the city’s staff report read.
The Department of Justice attempted to work with the district, but by 2017, the Kenton County Sheriff terminated their agreement with the school district. For similar reasons, the city expressed concern.
“The City however, expressed concern with the Agreement between DOJ and (Covington Independent Public Schools) and the possible impact on officer safety,” the staff report read. “Although this is an Agreement to which the City is not a party, there was concern that the Agreement’s provisions stating that the District would only request that SROs or other law enforcement officers respond to student conduct when that conduct constitutes ‘an imminent and substantial threat to physical safety or serious crime’ would cause confusion for a responding City officer, and possibly put him/her in harm’s way if he/she should hesitate in response to an incident.”
So, over the past several weeks, Senior Assistant City Solicitor Michael Bartlett worked with the Department of Justice to edit the language, saying he wanted to “find a way to narrow down the agreement to better protect everybody.”
Simply, the concerning language was taken out, meaning the officers will now be able to act as law enforcement officials and not school staff. Meyer commended Bartlett, saying this “is a total win for the school district as well as the city.”
The agreement has been placed on the consent agenda for next Tuesday’s legislative meeting, and if approved, will go into effect July 1.
Alvin Garrison, superintendent of the school district, was present at the meeting Tuesday, and clapped when the agreement moved forward.
“Thank you,” he said, smiling and giving a thumbs-up to the commissioners.