Monona Grove schools will continue to have police officers this year as the district continues to consider phasing out those positions.
The Monona Grove School Board voted 6-1 (Elizabeth Cook dissenting) on Sept. 9 to renew an agreement with two local police departments to provide school resource officers for one more year.
Board members voted to authorize Superintendent Dan Olson to negotiate the details of the agreement with the City of Monona and the Village of Cottage Grove, with no further board action required. Olson said he will collect feedback from board members on a draft agreement, and make any suggested changes based on that input.
The district has previously had three-year agreements with the City of Monona and the Village of Cottage Grove for two officer positions.
Monona Grove has had school resource officers in its buildings for nearly 25 years. The district added its first officer in Monona in 1996, Olson said, and added the second in Cottage Grove in 2017.
The officers are each assigned to one community, Monona or Cottage Grove, and rotate between all school buildings located there.
The school board may also create an oversight committee for school resource officers; more discussion on that is expected at the board’s October meeting.
Olson said a one-year cushion gives the district time to do a full evaluation of the school resource officer role, to survey students and families, to increase mental health resources and to decide whether to continue the school resource officer program.
The presence of school resource officers is being rethought across the country, after widespread protests and discussions of police brutality broke out this spring after the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.
A handful of community members submitted public comments to the Sept. 9 virtual school board meeting, both in support and in opposition to renewing the contract.
Opponents of continuing to have school resource officers said their presence in schools makes students of color feel unsafe, and increases the risk of students of color being funneled into the criminal justice system.
Proponents, meanwhile, cited the feeling of safety they believe SRO’s have brought to schools.
Several board members expressed support for not eliminating the program until administrators can take a hard look at the SRO role, and consider what could potentially replace it.
Board member Susan Manning said she wants to know how students feel about having the officers in the buildings.
So far, board members have only received anecdotal feedback on whether students would support eliminating them.
Manning suggested surveying students for more quantifiable opinions.
Cook, meanwhile, said she doesn’t see why the district needs to remain in a contract with the police departments, even a shortened one, if it’s ultimately going to eliminate the program.
Other board members and administrators countered that they don’t want to eliminate the positions until they can replace them with comparable services.
Board member Peter Sobol said that with the disruption caused this year by COVID-19, it makes sense to minimize additional disruption by extending the contract one more year, while the district and school board research future options.
The board had discussed, at recent meetings, adding mental health resources at the schools and finding other ways for staff to connect with students, without law enforcement involvement. No action has been taken yet on those ideas.
Olson said the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction recommends that school districts with school resource officers have a flushed-out job description, annual evaluations and a system for accountability like an oversight committee, among other practices.
Olson said Monona Grove has never had an evaluation process for school resource officers and hasn’t followed several of the DPI’s other recommendations.
Sobol replied that the district shouldn’t be paying for a service if it isn’t being evaluated.
Board member Eric Hartz expressed concern over language used in previous agreements, and a draft of this year’s agreement with the City of Monona and Village of Cottage Grove. He said he doesn’t support certain privileges the agreement gives resource officers, like the ability to arrest students during class, and search and seizure authority.