Kate Toews was the voice of reason at last week’s Madison School Board meeting.
Too bad she’s leaving the board this spring.
Toews joined School Board President Gloria Reyes and members Cris Carusi and Savion Castro in approving $35,000 for police at special school events, many of them off campus. This includes graduation at the Kohl Center, dances at the Masonic Center and student marches to the state Capitol.
In many cases, contracts with hosting facilities require officers or security guards to be on site. And recruiting the district’s security guards to oversee special events, especially at night, is difficult, district officials said.
So hiring local police makes sense. The officers have experience and training in managing large crowds, deescalating situations and responding to emergencies. No one provided evidence Monday that officers at special events had done anything wrong. District officials praised their professionalism.
“We’re spending a lot of time talking about this,” Toews told her colleagues, “and I would love for us to talk more about school academics.”
So would we.
But three board members — Nicki Vander Meulen, Ananda Mirilli and Ali Muldrow — drew out the debate and voted against the sensible and relatively small expense. The same three board members had tried — but thankfully failed — to stop a contract last year for school-based police.
A small group of protesters Monday rehashed unfounded criticism of the four police officers — three of them black men — who work at the city’s high schools. The School Board politely listened to protesters during public comments. Later, the protesters chanted, and one yelled profanity. They forced the board to rush final votes before adjourning, raising open meeting concerns. Not only did the public have a hard time following what the board was doing, board members had trouble hearing one another.
Though the board ultimately OK’d the $35,000, this is no way to run a school district.
Mirilli proposed hiring “community social workers, mental health professionals and restorative justice practitioners” rather than police for special events. After staff worried her motion might violate state budgeting rules and that no such providers had been identified, Mirilli withdrew her motion. Denying the $35,000 for officers could have jeopardized graduation at the Kohl Center.
“You guys, we had 39 arrests last year in school, and we’re talking about canceling graduation because we can’t make a decision about this?” Toews said. “This is crazy.”
She’s right. Those arrests involved less than 0.5% of the district’s 8,000 high-schoolers. And some weren’t even students.
Muldrow claimed district staff “racialized” Monday’s discussionby citing security needs at a basketball game.
“You didn’t say we needed to have a police officer for a swim meet,” Muldrow told Michael Hernandez, who oversees high schools and athletics. “You said we needed to have a police officer for basketball.”
Hernandez responded: “It had nothing to do with white, black or brown at that game.” The basketball game needed security because it attracted about 1,200 people, he said, while a swim meet might draw a few dozen.
Reyes, a former police officer, called it naive to think that removing officers from school events would remove problems.
“Things happen,” she said. “Things escalate. And I think an officer’s presence does eliminate a lot of these issues.”
So do we.
Instead of endlessly debating the small number of officers who make our schools safer, the School Board should concentrate on improving learning in classrooms.
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