In under five minutes and with no discussion, the Madison School Board narrowly passed a contract Monday that would keep police officers in the district’s four main high schools, but with an option to drop one officer beginning in the 2020-21 school year.
During a special meeting, the board received an update from the district’s attorney on changes to the proposed three-year agreement that would continue to station police officers, known as school resource officers, at East, La Follette, Memorial and West high schools. It passed on a 4-3 vote.
The quick pace of the meeting, which did not include a public comment period, caught some in the audience off guard.
School Board President Gloria Reyes said after the meeting that the contract is a “really good compromise” with the Madison Police Department on a contentious program that has had activists calling for its termination for years.
“It would be irresponsible of us to completely eliminate the program and take officers out of our schools,” said Reyes, herself a former Madison police officer.
She said the option to reduce to three high schools with SROs could act as a pilot program on determining the role and presence of police in schools.
Board members Mary Burke, Cris Carusi and Kate Toews joined Reyes in voting in favor of the contract, while Ananda Mirilli, Ali Muldrow and Nicki Vander Meulen voted against it.
“I think it’s developmentally inappropriate to expose children to incarceration. Police are the only people within our schools who can expose children to incarceration,” Muldrow said after the meeting. “I think arresting kids results in tremendous long-term harm to them.”
She said she’s not against the concept of police in schools, but rather the disproportionate rates at which black students are arrested and cited.
“If we can have the police in schools and eliminate disproportionately in arrests and not subject children to incarceration, then I think there is a role for the police within our schools,” Muldrow said.
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The proposed contract calls for quarterly meetings with police and district officials to go over arrest and citation data and disaggregate it by student race, gender and disability status. If specific groups of students continue to be disproportionately arrested and cited, the parties are to look into the causes for it and work on eliminating them.
The Madison City Council will need to take up and vote on the contract before it can be finalized.
Reyes said there was no public comment at the special meeting because there was an opportunity earlier in the evening for the public to speak at the board’s Operations Work Group.
During that meeting, which had the 2019-20 budget as its sole agenda item, people commented on the budget, West High athletic facilities and staffing concerns at Leopold Elementary School.
Under the new contract, the district would need to act by Sept. 15 for an officer to be removed for the 2020-21 school year or by June 10, 2020, for the removal to take place on Jan. 1, 2021.
If a reduction is sought, the district would need to specify which school would no longer have an SRO and why. The Police Department would then have the discretion to reassign the SROs among the three remaining schools.
Police Chief Mike Koval expressed his opposition Friday to the clause allowing for the reduction of an SRO, saying it could negatively impact police response time to a school without an officer. He also questioned how the district would select the high school.
The proposed contract also makes several other changes from the current contract, including more training for SROs in the areas of adolescent brain development, autism and racial bias.
The current SRO agreement between the Police Department and School District expires at the end of the month.