Students from Central High School spoke at the school board meeting Monday night to voice concerns over the removal of School Resource Officers (SROs) from the district.
The La Crosse School board has reduced the number of SROs in the district from five to three. It plans on further reducing that number to two by July 1.
This decision was made after an extensive evaluation was done, which found that “markers of the school-to-prison pipeline are present in the School District of La Crosse.” That evaluation found that minority students reported feeling unsafe or fearful of the SROs, and are disproportionately suspended or expelled.
One of the four Central students who spoke was Adam Manka. He argued, at the public comment portion, before the school board meeting, that race should not be a factor when considering whether to remove the SROs.
“They say that we should not be considered proper voices because we are white men, but we and the SROs do not care about your race, and safety is a universal need regardless of said race,” Manka said.
Meanwhile, students advocating for the removal of SROs argued at the meeting that students are being unfairly punished, and that suspensions and fines negatively impact students’ mental health and their ability to succeed.
Central student Jack Murphy, however, argued that the students need to have consequences for their behavior.
“A student becomes a criminal when a crime is committed,” Murphy told the board. “All of the acts (students are punished for) are considered crimes under the criminal code in Wisconsin, and that’s what happens when you commit a crime.”
He went on to address the argument that armed officers in schools create feelings of fear rather than of safety, especially in minority students.
“Would you rather have a taser in possession of someone who is trained to use it or a bomb or gun in possession of a student?” Murphy said.
Students also argued that with the increased number of threats and instances of bullying or fighting, the SROs are essential to protect students.
Also during public comment, Jessica Leone, a mother of a student at Logan High School, addressed the school board after a bullying incident put her child in an ambulance. She stated that the school did not properly investigate the incident, and there was no punishment for the other student.
During the meeting, the four students who addressed the board, talked about bullying and being safe in school.
Central student Kaden Young explained that after SROs led the evacuation of Central, after the bomb threat on Jan. 3, which showed how essential they are in protecting students.
“I want to be safe in school, as does everyone else,” Young said, “and I would argue that SROs are the one of the biggest reasons we are safer. Stop removing our SROs and bring them back. “
Three of the students who spoke to the board Monday, were also among those to present a petition to the board last month they said had over 300 signatures to keep SROs in school.