Replace Cops With Social Workers and Nurses? That's What These Schools Might Do
Demonstrators gathered outside Madison School Board President Gloria Reyes' home June 3, demanding school resource officers be removed from Madison schools. (Photo Freedom Inc. Facebook)

Madison, Milwaukee School Boards consider removing school resource officers, a sign of progress for protesters.  

Five days after protesters gathered outside her home demanding police be removed from Madison schools, school board President Gloria Reyes has announced a plan to do so, a sign of the impact of protest marches in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the U.S.  

In a statement Tuesday, Reyes, a former Madison police officer, said the Madison school board will establish a subcommittee that will work toward removing officers from schools. 

In light of continued racial injustice that has gained worldwide attention after Floyd’s May 25 death at the hands of Minneapolis police, Reyes is directing the school board to devise options “to remove school resource officers from our school buildings,” she said in the statement. 

“The complexities of these times have lasting and painful memories for our students and staff, and we must press harder to dismantle systems that perpetuate racism and create new structures, void of harmful inequities, and with the well-being of every student at the center,” Reyes said.

Reyes backed officers in schools as recently as last week, when protesters rallied outside her house and asked her to commit to halt the district’s police in schools policy. 

Reyes’ announcement follows a statement Sunday by Madison Teachers Inc. also calling for the removal of officers from Madison schools. 

The removal of the school resource officers, however, has to simultaneously occur when all four Madison high schools are properly staffed with counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and mental health specialists according to the national American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recommended levels, according to the statement. Each high school has roughly 2,000 students.

Like Reyes, that organization also had previously backed having police in schools.

The last contract approving officers in Madison schools was approved by a 4-3 vote in June 2019. That contract lasts through the 2021-22 school year, but the school board can end the contract one year earlier if it does so by Sept. 15. 

The Milwaukee school board also is considering reducing police services after the Black Educators Caucus MKE on Tuesday called for the district to end its contracts with the Milwaukee Police Department.  

The school board had scheduled a special meeting for Thursday, June 18, to discuss the demands of the caucus and to consider ending contracts it has with the police department for security equipment such as metal detectors and social media monitoring software.

Caucus members said continuing to pay for services provided by the Milwaukee Police Department furthers institutional racism and flies in the face of the spirit behind recent protests. 

Leaders Igniting Transformation, a Milwaukee advocacy organization for youth of color, also is calling on district leaders to end contracts with the police department and to reallocate the district’s security budget expenses toward such positions as guidance counselors and school nurses.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he worries for student safety without a police presence in schools. 

Some other school districts across the country are taking similar action following Floyd’s death and subsequent nationwide protests against institutional racism. The Minneapolis school board recently ended its contract with the police department. 

However, not all school districts support removing officers. Many school officials have said officers are a deterrent to dangerous behavior, and their presence increases safety at school.

Ron Martin, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said he understands why some school districts — especially those with a large percentage of students of color — are seeking to remove officers. Too often, he said, Black parents and their children worry not only about academic achievement but their safety. 

“We have to recognize that this is the world Black children grow up in,” Martin said, “and we have to change that.” 

However, other school districts report that resource officers “are invaluable and help in many ways,” he said.   

“This is a divisive issue, and it will be up to each school district to decide the best way to handle it,” Martin said.