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Middleton-Cross Plains latest to reconsider police in schools
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Middleton-Cross Plains latest to reconsider police in schools

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SRO Franco

Madison police Officer Zulma Franco worked as a school resource officer last year at East High School. The Madison School District and city officials have agreed to end the program beginning in the 2020-21 year.

Six weeks after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis brought renewed attention to police brutality and helped persuade the Madison School District to eliminate its school resource officer program, at least one other area district is also reconsidering its relationship with local police.

On Tuesday, amid pressure from residents opposed to the school-based officers, the Middleton City Council voted against renewing its contract with the Middleton-Cross Plains School District for one officer each at the high school and Kromrey Middle School.

The district’s School Board had approved contracts with Middleton and the village of Cross Plains to continue stationing officers at Middleton High School and Kromrey and Glacier Creek middle schools, but board President Annette Ashley told Middleton council members that after its June 22 decision, the district received feedback from people opposed to the officers and, as a result, intended to conduct a “thorough evaluation” of the program.

Removing police from the district’s schools is one of seven demands a group of residents and others are making of the school district, according to an online statement and petition signed by some 600 people — mostly recent or soon-to-be graduates of the high school. Others include releasing a “plan of concrete action against racism to its community” and “mandating units to address and discuss systemic racism, institutionalized white supremacy and white privilege in required courses.”

Cross Plains Police Chief Tony Ruesga said an officer has been based at Glacier Creek for four years, and district spokesman Perry Hibner said Middleton officers have been at the high school and Kromrey for some 30 and 20 years, respectively.

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Protester confronts officer, May 30
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Madison protest turns destructive, May 30
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Police spray protesters, May 30
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Effects of tear gas, May 30
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Medical station, May 30

Ruesga said the Cross Plains Village Board unanimously approved the school resource officer, or SRO, contract with the district on June 30, but “it wasn’t without controversy,” and as a result the district and village planned to meet to consider the program’s future.

Hibner said that prior to Tuesday’s Middleton City Council meeting, the district “had begun work on a committee that would have looked at school resource officers and determining what changes, if any, would be made to the program.”

He said the committee was expected to be made up of staff, administration, students and police, and that the district had also “wanted to include some of the alumni and adults who had reached out requesting that we eliminate SRO positions immediately.”

With Middleton’s decision to end its contract with the district, he wasn’t sure if the city would be a part of that group.

Ruesga said that while he supports Glacier Creek’s SRO program, he also supports the effort to study and possibly change it.

Ruesga, who identifies as Hispanic, said he grew up poor in the same area where Floyd died after a Minneapolis police office knelt on his neck for several minutes. Ruesga said his positive relationship with a police officer stationed at his high school when he was growing up was one of the main reasons he decided to become a police officer.

“The SRO in my school — he’s the reason I’m in law enforcement today,” he said.

He said that even if Cross Plains and the district eventually decide to remove the SRO from Glacier Creek, he’ll continue to be in the schools, building relationships with students.

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