Skip to Content

Police, school board respond as protesters call for removal of school officers

Remaining Ad Time Ad - 00:00

MADISON (WKOW) -- Protesters are demanding Madison's school board remove officers from the high schools, to help students of color feel more comfortable in class.

In a letter posted on Madison 365 Monday, leaders of the recent demonstrations are calling on board President Gloria Reyes to take action or resign.

MMSD's school board does have a chance to change the district's school resource officer contract this week and the city's teachers union now says it would support that move.

"What we are always constantly trying to figure or re-figure is ways that we have traumatized our children in our communities, especially our children of color in the community," said Mike Jones, vice president of Madison Teachers, Inc. "Part of recognizing that is understanding kind of both the explicit and implicit messages that we're sending."

MTI reversed its previous position on officers in schools, releasing a statement Sunday on how to prevent racism. But the union will only support the removal of officers if it comes along with added support staff to help students who find themselves in encounters with school officers because of stresses leading them to misbehave.

"What we are saying as a union is that for far too long we have not emphasized the need to have more supports that our kids need and deserve," Jones told 27 News. "We are ridiculously understaffed at all three levels, even with or without a police officer, we do not have the mental health supports that our kids have been begging us for."

School board member Nicki Vander Meulen wants to end the district's contract with MPD.

"Those who are black and brown are most at risk from officers at our school and if it makes them feel uncomfortable, then we need to re-look at how we police our schools," she said.

The board's last vote on the contract split 4-3, in favor of continuing current policies. She's hopeful MTI's statement and messages from the community as protests continue will bring the issue back to the table.

"This is a major step forward," she said. "They've listened that things are changing, that times are changing and that everyone should feel safe in school and right now that's not the case."

As part of the contract, there is one school resource officer, or SRO, at each high school. Acting Chief Vic Wahl says they're valuable resources for students and staff.

"Our SROs are able to build relationships and really do their work in a progressive way and there's been sort of a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about what they actually do from day to day," Wahl told 27 News. "They really do a fantastic job of being part of the team in schools and building relationships with students and the staff and really enables them to much more effectively solve problems and look at things sort of holistically when they're dealing with issues in the schools, rather than starting from scratch if it was a patrol officer, without that background, responding to these incidents."

Wahl says the officers work to build trust in the community with every relationship and contact with students.

As an educator at West High School, Mike Jones knows students need positive relationships to succeed. He says the SRO working there has been a partner for school leaders, but he says the presence of a uniformed officer can negatively impact some students.

The union wants the district to add more than 30 positions across the schools to focus on mental health and other support. Jones says the responsibility doesn't just fall on the school board.

"The challenge is to our larger Madison community, to say what are we willing to put in? Are we willing to just stop at hashtags and blacking out our Instagram accounts? Or are we willing to actually push through the referendum, to actually have an honest discussion about what we would actually need to have fully-functioning, anti-racist schools that meet the needs of all of our kids?" he said.

The SRO contract is not on the school board's agenda this week, but the board has until June 12 to vote on whether to remove one of the four officers. The board can also decide to cancel the entire contract by September.

Board President Gloria Reyes has not responded Monday to calls for the contract to be ended, or for her resignation. On Friday, she released a statement about the contract, saying she believes now is not the time to make decisions.

"I believe now is not the time for decisions to be made as a reaction to simply our emotions, but to continue to better understand the genesis of these emotions and to make informed decisions, that are thoughtful, purposeful, in-line with our values, through a lens of equity and with consideration for the safety and wellbeing of every single student," the statement reads, in part.

The MMSD board is meeting Tuesday night, but there is no public comment scheduled on the agenda.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

Skip to content