The Madison School Board voted Monday to remove police officers from the city’s four high schools.
The move comes after a longtime push from groups such as Freedom Inc., which has been active in the city’s recent racial justice protests. The board has long resisted the call to remove police from Madison schools, but changed course in the past few weeks amid the current social environment.
“It seems that this community has requested movement sooner rather than later,” said board president Gloria Reyes, who was initially against removing police from schools.
“There comes a time when a leader, a professional, has to listen, particularly during challenging times, to reassess and change direction depending on the will of the people,” she added.
The district currently employs four school resource officers at each of the district’s four main high schools, at a cost of roughly $380,000. The Madison district joins the Milwaukee school district, which ended its school resource officer contract earlier this month.
The acting Madison police chief Vic Wahl was disappointed with the decision, saying the officers had used progressive ways to have positive impacts in classrooms.
“It’s disappointing that the program appears to be ending, without recognition of the real work that the SROs have done or understanding of the consequences that will follow their removal from the schools,” he said.
“Right now the institution of policing is incompatible with and in fact in direct contradiction to what we hope to create for learning environments,” said Madison school board member Savion Castro.
The vote Monday makes the decision final, and board member Ali Muldrow said that the decision takes effect immediately. Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway announced last week that the city council will vote to end the contract at their July 14 meeting, after reaching an agreement with city leaders. According to Reyes, the city cannot overturn the board’s decision to sever ties if city decided against it.
An assistant city attorney said the school district would need to cover the cost of the school resource officers if the city council does not support ending the contract, but the resolution is expected to pass that chamber as well.
The board will continue to look into alternatives to police in schools, to implement ahead of the start of the school year in the fall.
“I was trained in restorative justice as a junior in high school,” said Castro, who grew up in the district. “We made a commitment to conflict resolution and healing without the need of a punitive and potentially violent threat from the state.”
“This has to be the beginning of a new conversation about what we want–safety–and [a] welcoming environment for our schools to look like,” he added.
“Now is the time for our Madison Police Department and police departments across the country to face the challenges of racism that exist within their policies, procedures and culture,” Reyes said. “And now is the time for all institutions to take a hard look at what they do and how they do it and how they feed into the racist practices within their own institutions in our community.”
This story was updated to include comments from the acting Madison police chief.