School Board Takes First Step on Study of Police Contract

The La Crosse school board on Monday approved the formation of a committee that will start the process of evaluating the district’s $250,000 contract with La Crosse police.

All board members present at Monday’s board of education meeting voted in favor of creating the Fund 80 Ad Hoc Committee.

The committee’s term ends July 27 and it will be charged with:

1) Synthesizing questions from school board members regarding Fund 80, in particular, the School Resource Officer Program.

2) Compiling a list of stakeholders identified by school board members to  solicit input on Fund 80, in particular, the School Resource Officer Program.

The members of the committee will be school board members Dawn Comeau, Shaundel Spivey, Pelli Lee and school board president Dr. Laurie Cooper Stoll.

The information gathered by the committee will be used to inform the next stage of the board’s study of the police contract. The contract expires in June 2021. Cooper Stoll has said that she wants the board to consider how the $250,000 could be reallocated if the contract is not renewed.

At Monday’s meeting, two members of the public spoke on the issue of police in schools. Joella Striebel read from a statement by La Crosse Area SURJ (Showing up for Racial Justice).

The statement noted that:
“For poor people and people of color, the presence of more police doesn’t decrease anxiety — it increases it. Many students, predominantly but not exclusively students of color and poor students, have already had traumatic experiences with law enforcement by the time they are in school. We don’t need to be creative thinkers to know why certain very predictable demographics of people feel more anxious and scared in the presence of police. Police carry guns. Police are people who arrest you, or your parents, or your neighbors. Police are people who took you to foster care. Police are people who can deport your dad. Police didn’t help you when you were sexually assaulted. Police will arrest you for the way you support your family. Police are often present on the worst day of your young life, which you’ve just been reminded of… in the middle of your school day. Naturally this creates a high stress environment that limits learning and social development; a person in distress is simply not able to learn as well as a person feeling safe. For students privileged enough to not have these traumatic experiences in their lives by the time they are in school, police do not cause the same inner alarm bells to ring.”

On the other side of the debate, Steve Korger, who said he had worked at Longfellow Middle School for five years, noted that until quite recently there was talk of increasing the number police at schools because of concerns over mass shootings.

“While we are trying to increase safety at our schools, why would we take out the most essential part of that,” he asked the school board, adding that in his opinion many students and teachers supported having police in schools because they increased safety for all.

The $250,000 contract with police pays to put five officers in local middle and high schools, in addition to supporting one district-wide D.A.R.E. officer.

School boards around the country have been reassessing their contracts with police in recent weeks as protests against police brutality and racism have swept the nation. The Madison, Milwaukee and Winona school districts are among those that have recently voted to remove police from their schools.

By Eric Timmons. Send questions or corrections to lacrosseindependent@gmail.com.

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