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Despite Vocal Opposition from Community, School Board Votes to Keep Police in Schools

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Despite months of in-person testimony and powerful commentary from youth, parents and community leaders, the Madison School Board voted 4-2 to retain the contract that places police in schools through 2022, with an amendment that will allow them to remove officers who abuse their authority.

After several hours of students, families and community members coming to the podium to speak directly to the board about the harassing and fearful nature of armed police roaming school hallways, the elected members of Madison’s school board remained in favor of having officers continue their work inside of area schools.

One by one, kids of color and kids who identify as LGBT stepped up to the microphone and stated with increasing volume that armed police officers in their schools make them feel unsafe, unwelcome and harassed.

One teenage girl spoke to the Board about the violent nature of ICE agents, prison guards and police officers. She said that her experience is that those entities are the ones perpetrating violence and causing people in her community to feel unsafe. She said the School Board feeds into that violence by not doing anything to help Black and Brown students and by continuing to have police in schools.

“You all are racist,” she said. “You all are racist and you don’t care about the kids in our school at all. You have the power to get cops out of our school. I came up here to tell you and let you know cops need to leave our school or we’ll keep coming back until you do. You need to let me tell you what safety means for me and that doesn’t include cops in our schools.”

Representatives of Freedom Inc. kicked off the commentary ahead of the Board’s vote by placing the onus for the future of students’ high school experience onto the School Board. The frustration was palpable and the tension high in the audience.

For two years concerned members of the community have been attending MMSD School Board meetings demanding an end to having police in schools.

During discussion prior to the vote, Board President Mary Burke said that she is concerned about the abundance of school shootings and the access to guns. The pushback from the community has been that police in schools make the white parents, administrators and staff feel safer at the expense of the experience of students of color. That the presence of police in schools has not deterred any active shooter incidents that have taken place across the country and that the notion that police are there simply protecting students from that potential event is a myth.

Several Board members used the legislative mandate that school staff members who feel threatened must call the police as a rallying cry for why the Board should support school resource officers (SROs) and “control” which officers were being used as security inside of schools.

The issue of staff needing to call the police if they feel threatened goes to the heart of the issue about race. One member of the public who spoke at Monday’s meeting said that if she, as a white person, started yelling profanities (which she did!) it wouldn’t raise an alarm or be as threatening as it would if a Black or Brown person began raising their voice.

The Board decided to pass an amended version of the SRO contract with language giving the Board the power to have officers removed who are abusive towards students.

So, the Board recognized the discomfort and fear of students and families of color who cited at least a dozen instances of police misconduct (including sexual assault of a high schooler) by basically stating that if anything bad happens, they’ll have that officer removed.

The City of Madison will now decide whether or not to agree to the School Board’s amended version of the contract.

“The reason I support continuing the program is I believe this program gives us an opportunity to have a great degree of influence on how police are in our schools,” said school board TJ Mertz. “And I know that police officers will exercise their discretion. I know our police chief has said that police will do what police do regardless of what we do. But i still think that in partnership and collaboration, with checks and balances, and public reporting and a complaint procedure that we never had before and a lot of other things… and clearer language between criminalization and school discipline i think that we can minimize the potential for harm, not eliminate it, and that’s why I support the concept of an SRO/ERO program right now in this time and place.”

Mertz was joined by James Howard, Dean Loumos and Burke in voting for the contract. Nicki Vander Meulen and Kate Toews voted no. Mertz faces a re-election challenge from Ananda Mirilli. Ali Muldrow and David Blaska are both vying for Howard’s seat; Howard has indicated in the past that this term would be his last. Muldrow has expressed opposition to the SRO program whereas Blaska has publicly supported it. Loumos has announced he will not run again; One City Schools founder Kaleem Caire and community member Cris Carusi are running for his seat. Gloria Reyes was not present for the vote.