The Board of Education unanimously approved an update agreement with the City of Middleton for school resource officers at Kromrey and MHS at the regular meeting on Monday, July 20.
Board president Annette Ashley presided over the meeting at the District Services Center, while other Board members participated remotely. The School Board has held seven virtual meetings since mid-March.
The new agreement includes a provision to evaluate the program over the next few months and to make a recommendation to the School Board by January 2021 about whether it should continue. The District plans to use surveys and focus groups of students, families and staff to solicit feedback. More data, such as contact logs and citations by student demographics, will also be studied. The District will also research other alternatives to SRO programs.
The School Board had approved the original SRO agreement on June 22, but the Middleton Common Council voted to terminate the agreement at its meeting on July 7. The Common Council indicated they wanted to reconsider their initial vote and a potential new agreement and were set to discuss and vote on July 21. The District has received letters and petitions from alumni and community members who want the SRO program to end because they believe it is detrimental to particularly black and brown students.
"I would like to acknowledge our graduates who have come back to the community, start a live petition and start a conversation about is best for all of our students,'' Director of Equity and Student Achievement Percy Brown Jr. said. "We are in a time and moment and where there is extreme social and racial unrest. ... We are still discussing, educating and negotiating what is the best path possible for this District.''
Current Middleton Police Chief Troy Hellenbrand, former Middleton Police Chief Chuck Foulke, former MHS school resource officer Tyler Loether, and current SROs Kenneth Chung (MHS) and Julie Carbon (Kromrey) all spoke in support of the program and shared their experiences. Foulke noted he was the first SRO at MHS when the program began in the District in the late 1980s, while Hellenbrand also previously served three years as a school resource officer.
The officers noted the program's philosophy has always been about building relationships with students and staff in a comfortable environment and to serve as a mentor and role model along with a resource for all students and staff. While the officers acknowledged having an SRO provides a level of comfort and feeling of protection, they didn't believe that was the only benefit. They believe it leads to more trust in reporting safety concerns within and outside the school environment. SROs also provide classroom instruction on topics such as self-defense, traffic laws, alcohol/drug issues, internet safety, and U.S Constitution.
The officers also noted if the SRO program is abolished they will still be needed at the schools, but it will usually only be when there is a crisis situation, which they believe only perpetuates the negative feelings some have for law enforcement.
Board member Paul Kinne suggested studying the SRO program before making changes rather than making changes first. Multiple Board members indicated they also agreed with that approach.
"Let's find out,'' Board member Bob Hesselbein said. "We haven't look at our SRO program for many, many years and now we are because we hear there is discomfort with it. Let's take the time to evaluate the program. We may find SROs are not needed but we may also find we have a model program.''