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Updated: City, school leaders agree to end SRO program, mayor says; School Board will vote Monday
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Updated: City, school leaders agree to end SRO program, mayor says; School Board will vote Monday

The Madison School Board will vote Monday on continuing or ending early its contract with the Madison Police Department to have officers stationed in its four comprehensive high schools.

Based on public statements from board members this spring and previous votes, it's likely the board will vote to end the contract early. They'll do so with support from the city, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said Wednesday afternoon.

Board president Gloria Reyes announced the planned vote in a news release Wednesday afternoon. The board will meet in a special session at 4 p.m.

“The safety and wellbeing of every student that walks through our doors each day is a tremendous responsibility,” Reyes said in a statement. “As leaders in education, we recognize that now is the time to intensify our commitment to dismantling systemic racism by addressing inequities that only serve as mechanisms of division, and this decision is a significant step.”

In a virtual press conference Wednesday afternoon, Rhodes-Conway announced that city and school district leaders had agreed to end the SRO program. A resolution will be introduced tomorrow to terminate the contract before the beginning of the next school year, she said.

"Local community organizers have been calling for the end of the SRO contract, citing significant racial disparities, school-based arrests and citation," she said. "Ending this contract, effectively removing SROs from schools, is a first step in addressing this disparity.

"We must now work together to redirect funding from police to new forms of student and youth support."

The vote follows years of activism from the Freedom Inc. Youth Squad, which repeatedly showed up to School Board meetings to argue against having police in schools. The board approved a new contract in June 2019 on a 4 to 3 vote, with options to end it early.

[What do protests mean for School Resource Officers in Madison?]

Many districts nationwide have moved in recent weeks to end their school resource officer programs amid unprecedented protests against systemic racism in policing. The protests followed the death of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who died while a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly eight minutes, captured by cell phone video.

Earlier this month, a majority of board members expressed an interest in ending the contract early. Reyes, a former police officer, initially disagreed, but eventually said in a statement that it was time to explore removing them. She suggested the board establish a subcommittee to look at school safety without SROs.

Madison Teachers Inc. also joined the calls for removing police in schools earlier this month, though they requested the district hire a number of student services staff instead to help fill the gap.

The statement announcing the vote says the district’s safety and security team, school leaders and School Board members “will continue to guide the work of school safety with a commitment to ensure a comprehensive approach that includes the area of prevention, mitigation, response and recovery, maintains collaboration with multiple entities, is based on research and best practices, adheres to state statute and (Board of Education) policies and is guided by data.”

“SROs, who are present in four of our 52 schools, are one component of a much larger comprehensive safety and security plan that works each day to keep our schools safe,” said Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore. “School safety is the responsibility of the entire community. Providing safe, secure and welcoming schools is necessary to ensure that all students have the opportunity to access learning in a safe student centered environment.”

[Madison School Board president Gloria Reyes joins calls for removing police from schools]

Officers have been stationed in Madison high schools since the late 1990s. Data show that even as arrests and citations dropped in recent years, Black students were still disproportionately on the receiving end of those actions.

Advocates for their removal worry about how their presence contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline and can turn school discipline matters into criminal issues.

Those who have pushed to keep officers in schools in recent years have pointed to relationship-building opportunities and that police are likely to still be called to school, but will not have the familiarity with students that SROs have.

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.

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