The Sun Prairie School Board voted 8-1 to approve a resolution in support of law enforcement as part of its Monday, Oct. 12 meeting agenda.
The resolution was first proposed at the board’s Sept. 28 meeting by John Welke, a Town of Bristol resident and former Sun Prairie School Board member who believed the resolution was needed. The resolution was revised since its initial presentation in September, thanks to assistance from Police Chief Mike Steffes and the Sun Prairie Police Department.
“A strong relationship between the district and law enforcement is critically important to the protection of students, staff and facilities,” Welke wrote in support of the revised resolution. “Thank you for your time and service!”
Welke’s resolution apparently did not receive support from his own daughter, a Hamline University student and SPHS alum who wrote in an email that she opposed the resolution.
“This policy is both unnecessary and improper,” Alexandra F. Welke wrote in a Friday, Oct. 9 email to the board. “It is unnecessary because law enforcement already vows to protect and serve their communities without requiring such policies. It is improper because the duty of schools and the school district is first and foremost to the students.
“Adoption of the proposed resolution would place [the Sun Prairie Area School District] in a position beholden to law enforcement,” Alexandra Welke wrote, “therefore, diverting attention from the well-being of students. As a Sun Prairie resident and SPHS alum, I am firmly and completely against the proposed legislation.”
Other residents disagreed with the SPHS alum, throwing their support behind the resolution, which notes the school board “unanimously approved Proclamation in May 2019 recognizing the importance of law enforcement to safeguard students and staff, the importance of the Sun Prairie Police Liaison Officer roles in the district and the District’s strong relationship with the SPPD.”
The resolution also points out “community safety is not a political issue and law enforcement is in one of the most challenging times in history and needs the District’s full support in order to have the confidence to do the job they are entrusted with” and notes the “importance of a strong relationship with our local law enforcement, including the Sun Prairie Police Department, Dane County Sheriff’s Department, and our State Troopers.”
The resolution also lists SPPD responses to incidents involving the district or a partnership with the district, including the false report of an active shooter in September 2019, the downtown natural gas explosion on July 10, 2018, and the domestic incident and school lockdown of 2016.
“I support the law enforcement resolution,” wrote Mike Pruitt. “Asa country, if we do not support our law enforcement officers we should not be surprised when we see a shortage of those wishing to pursue a career in law enforcement for the right reasons and are left with those pursuing it for the wrong reasons.”
Pruitt also wrote that failure to support the resolution could result in losing law enforcement officers to other communities in a competitive job market for qualified candidates.
“If we truly believe the criminal justice system requires reform,” Pruitt wrote, “then it will need leadership to affect change. Some of those leaders are currently in the profession. And some of those leaders will begin emerging from schools all across America including right here in Sun Prairie, as they embark on careers in law enforcement. However, if we do not support the very profession they love, then we cannot act shocked when we are having the same discussion in 10 years due to the inability to hire and maintain the best officers out there to work in our community.”
“Please record my support for this very worthy resolution,” wrote Mary Wagner, “as nothing is more important than the safety of our children, staff and facilities in providing a safe and productive learning environment.”
“It is imperative that these educated, well-trained, practice individuals be recognized for what they are — beacons of light,” wrote Joel Mejer. “They are positive role models, in a world lacking them. They build relationships that last a lifetime. It is for these reasons that I am eternally grateful to have these people in our community. It is with great pride that I call them friends, family and neighbors.”
“I do not support this . . . it doesn’t go far enough,” remarked board member Marilyn Ruffin. She said the reference to the police department “building relationships and solving problems” left her wondering. “Solving what?” she asked.
Ruffin read lines from the board’s resolution previously adopted in support of black families, including some of the statistics in the resolution noting how much more likely black or brown students were to get disciplinary referrals or arrested.
But Ruffin took her opposition one step farther: elimination of school district school resource officers (SROs).
“As a matter of fact, I would like to see us do away with the SROs, and I have no problem with our current SROs,” Ruffin said, adding that the money could be better spent to reach out to or help families in need.
Reading some of the more startling statistics from the black families resolution, Ruffin added, “I really look at this and I think about our officers here . . . ain’t no different,” she told the board.
Ruffin said she has been in so many expulsion hearings — “9 out of 10, they’ve been our black and brown students,” she said, adding that it makes her question district policies.
“I want us to also get our own house in order,” Ruffin said, asking why are law enforcement called to the schools.
“I am not in favor of this resolution,” said Ruffin, whose husband previously served on the Sun Prairie Police Commission and whose son, JT, is currently on the commission. “Thank you.”
But other board members didn’t see the resolution as an “Either-Or” proposition —either supporting law enforcement or Black Lives Matter.
Board Vice President Tom Weber was one of those board members.
“I get a little bit bothered . . . when I get asked how can I support a resolution about Black Lives Matter and then how can I support a resolution like this?” Weber asked.
Weber said in any large group of workers, there are bound to be those who don’t belong there. He used Boy Scout leaders, Catholic priests and law enforcement as examples of groups where he knows there are bad actors, but most are trustworthy public servants.
But, Weber also said, he also looks at the history of an organization including its working relationships. “I think our police department in Sun Prairie, the officers we have, are really stand up folks,” Weber said.
The board vice president said partnerships like those with the Sun Prairie Police Department will get the SPASD through the tough times.
“I really appreciate what the officers in our community are doing,” Weber said, “and I fully support the resolution.”
Recalling that he wrote the resolution in support of black and brown families, Sun Prairie School Board President Steve Schroeder pledged his support for the law enforcement support resolution.
“I too support this resolution because I am tired of being in a society that is so dichotomous,” Schroeder said, adding that he thought the average citizen can also support both.
“And I don’t think that you need to pick sides” when it comes to gun legislation that 90 percent of the country supports. “And I support the Sun Prairie Police Department. And I can’t say it any more clearly than that,” Schroeder said.
The board president said today, everything is political. “Wearing a damned mask is political,” Schroeder said.
He said while he respects Marilyn, Schroeder said the reason some of what she quoted was not in this resolution is because those statistics were listed in that resolution as a reason to support them.
The board president added that he hopes the conversation nationally will sometimes recognize that. “Sometimes,” Schroeder added, “it can be A and B.”
Chief Steffes thanked Schroeder and the board, and Ruffin, with whom he said he hoped he could meet to begin to work on some common ground.
Steffes recalled, while he was still employed by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, how his daughter came home from SPHS as a sophomore one day and wondered how she could show her fellow classmates what law enforcement officers deal with on a daily basis. Her idea became the Youth Leadership Program, and included a curriculum that allowed officers to teach. She took the idea to Chief Pat Anhalt, who took the idea to SPASD Superintendent Brad Saron. The district implemented the program.
“They both saw where that partnership could come together,” Steffes recalled. He said he was so impressed with how the SPPD and the SPASD created a new collaboration, it was one of the reasons why he wanted to join the SPPD.
“We at the police department are humbled and honored” with the resolution, Steffes saud. “And I truly appreciate everyone’s viewpoint.”
All of the board members, including student board members Sarah Rhoads and Quinn Williams, except for Ruffin voted to support the resolution on an 8-1 roll call vote.