Just over three weeks into the new gig, La Crosse School District superintendent, Dr. Aaron Engel only has the responsibility of reopening schools in the midst of a pandemic, and how to handle the near 27-year relationship with city police in schools.
“It is a lot,” Engel said this week on La Crosse Talk PM. “At the same time, the experiences I’ve had, have led me to this position for good reason. I’m thankful to have a really good team here in La Crosse, and just an incredibly supportive community. It makes the transition easy, despite all the things that are going on.”
Engel admitted the conversation, at this point, hovers mostly around reopening schools. The day after his conversation on WIZM, however, the police department did come out with its vision for the future of police in schools.
Police are making adjustments to its School Resource Officer (SRO) program, as the district gets set to — hopefully — have students in classrooms by Sept. 1.
Posted the police website Wednesday, Chief Shawn Kudron listed multiple areas he feels the program can improve — from how SROs are selected to discipline they would — or wouldn’t — enforce, as well as their attire.
Asked about equality vs. equity — how certain things may be deemed fine by the majority, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore the minority — Engel discussed SROs.
“I think the School Resource Officer program falls into that category,” Engel said. “For some students, it makes them feel unwelcome. For others, it may be a sense of security. But, because it makes some students feel unwelcome, we should evaluate that program, and we should determine what we can do to ensure that all students feel welcome at our schools.”
City police have had a near 27-year relationship with the school district. The SRO contract, however, ends in June.
“The La Crosse Police Department believes strongly that our School Resource Officer program is a vital component of our ‘relationship-based policing’ approach,” Kudron said in a statement. “Early in my career, I worked in the schools and know the connections we make with kids are real. Unfortunately, there is no chart, graph or study that can show the lives that have been changed or things that have been prevented.”
Monday, a La Crosse School Board committee “charged” Engel the task of reviewing the SRO program. He was presented with a list of 27 “stakeholders” (people and groups) to get input from, as well as provide answers to 43 questions the committee gathered.
Just a start, Engel said.
“There’s even more questions that I have that go beyond that list, and there are even more individuals and entities that we’ll reach out beyond that, as well,” he said. “That list of questions on that list of organizations represent something of a, kind of a minimum of what the board expects, but I anticipate that our evaluation will exceed that.”
Between the School Board committee info and the police’s plan on SROs two days later, it’s a lot of information to take in, as Engel said, just the start. But there is a deadline.
Engel has until Nov. 16 to complete a review and make a recommendation on the SRO program. The board says a decision by then gives it time to transition and provide the schools with required supports, if the SRO program is terminated.
That date, however, is not set in stone.