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Lapham-Marquette Equity in Action Parent Group Pens Letter in Support of Police-free Schools

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

Below please find the letter the Lapham-Marquette Equity in Action parent group sent to the Madison Metropolitan School Board in support of keeping cops out of schools, providing more support for student mental health, and realizing the full vision of the Freedom Youth Squad. The Madison Metropolitan School Board voted to remove the Police School Resource Officers (SROs) from the four traditional Madison high schools in June of 2020. At the time, there was increased support for this action and larger movements to fight anti-black racism and over-policing in this country. However, in Madison, this was not a spur of the moment decision, but rather the culmination of a years’ long, grassroots and youth-led effort for police-free schools and for reimagining the relationship between schools and Black and brown youth and, ultimately, all youth. The Freedom Youth Squad of Freedom Inc. had been pushing for this change for four years by the time it was finally adopted by the school board in 2020. Yet, as of December, 2021, we are only three months into the first in-person school year without SROs present in the high schools.

In the long fight to remove police from schools, the Freedom Youth Squad clearly laid out that having police in schools did not increase safety but rather led to disparate harmful outcomes for Black youth and other youth of color. During the years SROs were present in school buildings, behavioral referrals did not decrease; rather, the number of students, disproportionately Black students, disabled students, and LGBTQIA students, who faced tickets, citations, or criminal charges as a result of police contact at school, increased. SROs most often responded to incidents that had already happened, outside of the school, yet subjected students to police contact during the school day because of it. Research and district data did not show that they prevented behavioral issues or fights at schools. A more effective and student-centered approach would be to fund effective and repeated training for all school staff in de-escalation techniques, and to prioritize the hiring of sufficient mental health practitioners, restorative justice workers, social workers, and school staff in other positions that possess these skills. This would work to create connections and minimize harm to all rather than focusing on a punishment-based system that does nothing to address the root causes of conflict.

There have been recent issues of concern at area high schools. However, the media focus on the incidents at East and LaFollette High Schools has had a different tone than similar incidents at other schools or in the past. When incidents have occurred in West Madison or Middleton schools, media coverage brought focus to mental health programing and supports for kids and staff, rather than a conversation about police, metal detectors and zero tolerance, as is now happening. It is important to remember that all of us, including all of the community’s youth, are still living in a pandemic. The stress and fatigue of the last few years is real and right at the surface. Young people need mental health services and assistance adjusting to a return to in person schooling, not a police presence in the schools. The response to these issues is a backlash that was as predictable as it is disappointing.

Providing our students with supportive, culturally relevant mental health supports in school, that are fully staffed to provide levels appropriate to the size of the school population, is the best way to support our students. Using restorative justice practices in the schools that affirm the dignity and humanity of all students while working to address the harm caused, rather than just seeking to punish somebody, is the best way to address behavioral issues for students that will not further the school to prison pipeline. The full vision of Police Free Schools as articulated by the Freedom Youth Squad has not yet been actualized. Their first demand was the removal of SROs but that was not the only demand. They also demanded that schools invest in the leadership, wellness, and creativity of Black youth and youth of color, use transformative justice instead of punishing youth, and give youth, parents, and trusted adults real decision making power over schools. These demands align with the commitments expressed by MMSD School Board members to address racial inequities in discipline and opportunities to learn, as well as statements made by Madison Teachers Inc.’s president, Mike Jones. These additional steps are crucial to the successful realization of Police Free Schools that are safe, welcoming places of growth for all students.

We continue to support the demands of the Freedom Youth Squad and other youth that police remain out of schools and that the money previously used to fund police in schools be redirected to invest in the leadership, wellness and creativity of Black youth and youth of color. We need schools to move away from punishment-based discipline approaches and adopt restorative justice practices that center humanity and address harm holistically, and that youth and parents are engaged as partners and given real decision-making power in our schools.

Interested in helping to keep our schools police-free? Join this monthly check-in for people who want to be in conversation with each other, to ask questions, address tensions, gather tools to disrupt any momentum to return police to schools, and move forward in solidarity.

Info for April 13 long-haul solidarity gathering:

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