A community forum Monday night on police in La Crosse schools was very much in favor of ending the School Resource Officer program in the district.
Of the 17 that spoke in the virtual forum, 16 were against police in schools. This was the second such forum to discuss the La Crosse School District’s relationship with the city’s police for SROs.
La Crosse Schools superintendent, Dr. Aaron Engel, who hosted the forum, will bring his recommendations to the board meeting Nov. 16. That’s when the school board will likely vote on whether to keep SROs in schools.
At the forum, students, parents and community leaders spoke. Some advocated for alternatives to policing, while others discussed alternatives to having police.
“We do not expect teachers to be nurses, so it makes no sense to ask the police to do things they are not trained to do,” Laura Abellera, who is an organizer for Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT), said.
The La Crosse Police Department has had a relationship with the school district since 1993. Currently five SRO officers and one D.A.R.E. officer are assigned to schools in the district. The $250,000 contract expires in June.
The community seems to be leaning to ending the program, as Mayor Tim Kabat said at a Neighborhood Revitalization Commission meeting that included Police Chief Shawn Kudron, two weeks ago.
“If I were a betting person, I would be betting that the SRO program is going to go away or mostly go away,” Kabat said. “Maybe there will be some modification to it, but I think it’s significantly going to change.”
Stephanie Chroninger discussed Monday how one of her children needed SROs in the district multiple times. She admitted her child was probably not totally innocent for some altercations but didn’t deserve being attacked.
She urged the school board to get a first-hand account of what police in schools go through.
“Shadow the SRO,” she said. “See what they deal with on a daily basis. Then decide if you think there is better suited personnel to handle those situations — keeping in mind that our current administration is already at their limits on what they can handle. They do not need additional duties.”
The problem with that, at this point, is students are virtually learning through at least Oct. 25.
Another that spoke was Vincent Loera, who said he was a resident, a parent and formerly worked as a child welfare social worker for La Crosse County.
“When my work brought me into the school, it is customary to meet the SRO, and explain the situation to them,” Loera said. “The meeting brought little information to assist me in my case, and the SRO rarely asked if I needed any help in the matter. However, when he did assist, it would often harm the little rapport and trust that I had with the family.
He added, “Bringing the SRO or police into a meeting pushed my role from a collaborator and relationship builder, into a role of an authoritarian. The student and parent saw me as one of them. It is hard to feel safe and problem-solve when you feel ordered to do so by law enforcement.
Like others, Loera said the role of the police could be more narrowly adapted.
“The police’s job is to keep people physically safe,” he said. “They’ve kept my mom safe. They’ve kept me safe. And they’re tasked with keeping the community safe. But physical safety is not the only safety we need to attend to. We need people in schools that can attend to all the unmet needs students and families have, so the student can relax.”
Brianna Washington is a sophomore at Logan High School, and also the co-president of Black Student Leaders. She talked about how people need to see things from other perspectives.
“A lot of the parents wanted to say that they wanted to keep the SROs, are not parents with children with disabilities or parents with children of color,” she said, “and they need to remember that their children are not the only people who are going to that school.”
Abellera expanded on that but appeared to speaking more toward leadership.
“I get it, some of our imaginations cannot handle thinking beyond what we know,” she said. “Especially privileged white people who have held positions of power and control for so long, that any bit of deference to justice and liberation for black and brown people somehow feels like oppression to them.”
Nobody with the La Crosse Police Department spoke at the forum. Kudron has spoken in favor of the SRO program, having been one himself. The police have spoken at multiple other community forums to discuss policing in the city and how it affects minorities.