Madison School Board members on Monday probed a set of recommended changes to the policies and contract that govern school-based police officers.
At a special meeting, the School Board asked questions of members of an ad hoc committee set up to study the role of the officers, known as educational resource officers, or EROs. The committee last month offered 16 recommendations on the duties, oversight and use of officers, and called for specific changes to the ERO contract between the Madison School District and Madison Police Department.
This academic year is the last in a three-year contract to provide officers for the district’s four main high schools: East, La Follette, Memorial and West.
“The recommendations, I stand by all of them. I just want to strongly recommend the renewal of the contract be contingent on some oversight,” said ad hoc committee member Abra Vigna. “I actually don’t think our EROs need it ... but the youth need to know that it’s there in order to feel safe.”
The recommendations now are in the hands of the School Board, which will consider them as a way to provide direction to school district staff during negotiations on a new ERO contract.
School Board member Dean Loumos said the ultimate goal is to have everyone in the schools feel safe enough that EROs are no longer needed, but acknowledged a relationship between the district and police will always exist in some form.
“I don’t think there’s anything in here that should upset anybody, expect the people who would rather see us eliminate the program altogether,” said Loumos, who also served on the ad hoc committee.
Among the committee’s recommendations are to establish a new procedure for filing grievances against officers that is separate from the Police Department’s procedure, make restorative justice the first alternative for students facing disciplinary action, and require EROs be trained in areas such as adolescent brain development and the district’s classroom code of conduct.
“I was happy to see many of your recommendations as they were,” said School Board member James Howard, adding that he was particularly pleased with the recommendation to assign someone at every Madison school to be the police department’s on-site contact if officers are called.
Several ad hoc committee members expressed frustration Monday about a lack of data on EROs. Two of the committee’s recommendations call for improved reporting on the race, gender and disability status of students police get called about.
School Board member Kate Toews asked committee members about a recommendation that emphasizes the use of security guards over EROs when possible.
“I don’t think we need more security staff, I just think they could be used better,” said committee member Payal Khandhar.
The ad hoc committee is also proposing specific language for the ERO contract, including: “A request for police assistance does not necessarily need to result in an arrest or citation.”
The School Board plans to officially accept the committee’s report on Oct. 29 and will further discuss the role of EROs with the goal of having a new contract finalized in the winter.