School Board Getting Closer to Final Vote on Police Contract

La Crosse School District Superintendent Aaron Engel will be charged with coming up with a recommendation on whether the school board should vote to remove police from schools.

The proposal to ask Engel to come up with a recommendation on the $250,000 contract with police was discussed at Monday’s school board meeting. It will be put to a vote at the Aug. 3 board meeting but is almost certain to pass, as no board members have expressed any public opposition to the idea. Engel will then have until Nov. 16 to draft his recommendation, after which the board will hear his presentation and put it to a final vote.

The superintendent will have a list of 27 stakeholders to consult as part of his review of the School Resource Officer Program. Among others, the list includes the Ho-Chunk Nation, La Crosse Police Chief Shawn Kudron, Black Leaders Acquiring Collective Knowledge (BLACK), teachers, parents and the police officers who currently work in La Crosse schools.

In addition to the list of stakeholders, a series of questions for Engel to consider was put together by a special committee made up of school board members Dawn Comeau, Shaundel Spivey, Pelli Lee and board president Dr. Laurie Cooper Stoll, using input from the whole school board.

The 19 questions Engel will consider in his report include:

  • In what way have the SROs (School Resource Officers) worked to build relationships with students of color and their families? What events do they attend within the community (separate from any district sanctioned event) to support communities of color?
  • If the district pays part of the salary of the SROs, why would the SROs not be under the supervision and jurisdiction of the school district? It seems odd to have someone pay for part of a salary and then not have any authority over the individual.
  • Section 5B specifically states “The SRO is first and foremost a law enforcement officer…responsible for carrying out all the duties and responsibilities of [a police officer], and shall remain at all times under the control…of the law enforcement agency.” This seems counterintuitive with the supposed mission and purpose found on page 1 of the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding). Further, if an SRO is not performing appropriately or is a cause for concern, the district has no authority to remove that officer. Please determine how this section’s language is in line with the purpose and mission of the SRO MOU, as well as in line with the district’s need to ensure effective school operations and a positive learning environment.

Engel also will look at local and national research on police in schools and what the alternatives to the program might look like.

Dr. Cooper Stoll in June started the discussion on the contract with police, which expires in June 2021 and pays to put five police officers in La Crosse middle and high schools, and for one district-wide D.A.R.E. officer.

Many school districts across the country, including in Madison, Milwaukee and Winona have taken action to remove police from schools in recent weeks in the wake of the national uprising against police violence and systemic racism. 

At least two-thirds of high school students in the U.S. attend a school that has a police officer assigned to it. Numerous studies have shown that black students are more likely to be arrested at school but there’s little evidence that police make schools safer.

By Eric Timmons. Email questions to lacrosseindependent@gmail.com, and please consider supporting our journalism by making a donation here.

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