MCPASD Board Discusses First Evaluation of SROs

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By: 
Cameron Bren

MIDDLETON–The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District (MCPASD) Board of Education reviewed its first time evaluation of the school resource officer (SRO) program which embeds a police officer at each of the middle schools and the high school.

In June 2020 students, parents and community members called on the City of Middleton to suspend its contract with the MCPASD while the SRO program was reviewed. 

The Middleton Common Council tabled its agreement with MCPASD to provide police officers at Middleton High School and Kromrey Middle School. School district administrators said they would undertake a thorough review of the program to be completed by January.

Superintendent Dana Monogue presented the evaluation to the board noting it was the first evaluation since the program began in the mid 1980s.

“Even though our model has been in place since the 1980s it has never been formally evaluated,” Monogue said. “We want to prioritize everything we can when it comes to ensuring a safe and secure learning environment for our students and so we decided to undergo a thorough evaluation process of our SRO program.”

Mandi Sersch-Morstad, a research partner in the evaluation reviewed the academic literature related to the effectiveness of police in schools and the experience and perceptions students have. 

“The school to prison pipeline is the phenomenon in which some students come into contact with the juvenile justice system, become increasingly disconnected with school, eventually drop out of school and find themselves in the criminal justice system,” Sersch-Morstad said. “Research shows that if students are not reading sufficiently by the third grade, they are more likely to be part of the criminal justice system at some point in their life.”

She said zero tolerance policies originally intended to reduce the school to prison pipeline have worsened it by criminalizing students. Of those, students of color, students with a disability and students of lower socio-economic status are disproportionately affected.  

“These behaviors would be better framed as social, ecological and/or academic problems,” Sersch-Morstad said. 

MCPASD does not have a zero tolerance policy with the exception of a student bringing a gun to school which under state law requires an expulsion.

Sersch-Morstad reviewed the citation and arrest data of students in the district over the last five years which indicated Black students were cited and arrested at a disproportionately higher rate or higher overall than their white peers. 

Board member Bob Green said the cases where students were arrested, an arrest would likely have happened regardless of whether the SRO program was in place. 

Reviewing student’s survey responses Black and Latino students and students of color tended to have slightly fewer positive views and experiences with SROs compared to white students. A majority of students in all racial groups support maintaining the SRO program. 

In staff survey responses the majority of white staff support maintaining the SRO program while Black, Latino and non-white staff are split about evenly in half.

Monogue said the administration is recommending the district move to evolve the middle school SROs to a “community SRO” that does not operate out of the building. That would include revising the job description and collaborative planning of engagement opportunities.

The recommendation calls for maintaining the SRO at the high school, but they would not dress in uniform and would be required to be involved in training activities provided by the district. There would be a high school team providing ongoing feedback and involved in the process.

The district will work with the police department to avoid double consequences, Monogue said.

A systemwide mental health needs assessment and resource mapping process is also underway, Monogue said.

Board member Katy Morgan said she has concerns about the report.

“To me this feels kind of disappointing because it feels like a yes or no to SROs rather than a total reevaluation of how our district deescalates situations, how an SRO may or may not play a role, an integral role, in a larger support system, how we can be a real leader in a holistic response to our students in a crisis situation,” Morgan said. “This plucking of the SRO out of the conversation as whole, while interesting, feels inappropriate without it being part of the entire process.”

Morgan called for further evaluation of the program.

“We have identified the fact that we have a group of students that is negatively impacted by the presence of SROs that historically the data supports,” Morgan said. “The data we are reading, the survey results and everything we have in front of us doesn’t do a lot to say to me that we have solicited feedback appropriately from the people we most need to hear from.”

Green said he was weary to make changes to the program when the issues in the current system have not been addressed.

“I have a concern as we move forward that we not ignore the tools that we had in place, steps that we missed and make sure we don’t miss it again,” Green said.

Monogue said the extra evaluation is to get feedback from students and families as well.

School board member Anne Bauer said the report is missing information about the training that the district has required for the SROs. She said other historically marginalized groups should also be surveyed.

Monogue said she will bring the board members comments from the discussion back to her teams for review.

This story was corrected from our print addition to reflect that Mandi Sersch-Morstad, not Sonia Urquidi presented research to the board.

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