The Madison School Board’s ad-hoc committee on educational resource officers is about halfway through its 15-month process to review, evaluate and make recommendations about the use of police in schools.
At its most recent meeting last Wednesday, committee members heard about 40 minutes of public comments. Most of the remarks were from members of Freedom Inc., a Madison-based organization focused on socioeconomic and political change for communities of color.
The group’s Freedom Youth Squad, made up mostly of Madison Metropolitan School District students and recent graduates, reiterated their demands from previous ERO committee meetings: No police in schools, community control over school discipline and more resources poured into youth advocates, counselors and teachers to work with youth of color in a culturally-specific way.
“We, as a community, want to be able to decide if police are in our schools,” said King, 18. “We feel that you need to pour the $360,000 that you use for police into advocates for youth of color. We want you to invest in youth of color.”
Some adult allies from Freedom Inc. were on hand to support the younger members.
“If we really cared about the educational access, quality and success of students of color, you would do what they are asking and take police officers out of school,” said Michael Davis. “When will we push aside this liberal and progressive facade and actually listen to the students and know they are the experts?”
Freedom Youth Squad members also shared stories of other students’ encounters with EROs that made national headlines, including an incident in North Carolina where a young woman was slammed to the floor by a school officer trying to break up a fight.
Madison School Board member and ERO ad-hoc committee chair Dean Loumos said that he appreciated the students attending the meetings, and said that the committee values their perspectives.
“I want to thank all the speakers for coming. Not only do we listen, but we see you and we hear you,” he said.
The committee spent most of the meeting discussing its process. When the it started, the Madison School Board requested facilitation help from the district to provide structure to meetings. Some committee members said the structure does not provide enough time for discussion or connecting with students and staff at schools.
“All four high schools operate completely independent of each other,” said Payal Khandhar, who is a part of a subcommittee tasked with collecting staff and community perspectives. That group has only visited one high school so far. “I need and want all the information.... I can’t get the full perspective of all four high schools. I am really hesitant to report out anything from my small committee because it’s such a skewed perspective from the limited information I’ve been able to access.”
Loumos encouraged committee members to “own their (sub)committees” and use the structure to guide their work, not limit it.
Committee members also expressed concern about their timeline. In October 2016, MMSD and the city of Madison signed a three-year contract to employ EROs in the schools, with the option to opt-out of the contract after two years. The Madison School Board would have to inform the city by April 2018 if it wants to opt-out, but the ad-hoc committee isn't scheduled to complete its work until May 2018.
“Even if we decided to end EROs in schools in May, it would be very difficult to figure out what to do and implement it the following year,” Loumos said. “The length of this three-year contract is going to go to the end... at that point, whatever (the committee) decides and whatever the board votes on, that is what will be in place. However, we can make some recommended changes (before the end of the contract).”
The next meeting of the ERO committee is scheduled for Dec. 6. At that time, subcommittees will report their findings to the larger group. The committee will also have time to share recommendations about the ERO contract at that time.