New committee formed to help decide future of La Crosse School Resource Officers

The new superintendent talks about the pros and cons of School Resource Officers

With a brand new school superintendent on the job for just six days, Dr. Aaron Engel’s very first La Crosse School Board meeting focused on two very big issues Monday night. How to reopen schools with Covid-19 still being a threat and the future of School Resource Officers.

It was decided to create a new four-person committee called the ‘Fund 80 Ad Hoc’ committee to gather information that answers the question if  La Crosse schools are better with or without SRO’S.

The program is 27-years-old, but times have changed and there is more pressure to reform police forces and one of those ways is to reduce their presence in schools.
The new superintendent did not have resource officers in his last position heading up the Galesville-Ettrick-Trempealeau School District, so he says he’s been researching the pros and cons of their presence in schools.

“There are issues where we naturally need to work together whether it’s enforcing local ordinances such as truancy or smoking violations. And it’s also important in terms of broader safety in our community for the law enforcement agencies to understand our buildings and be able to respond to emergencies in a timely and effective way. There’s also data that indicates a correlation between school resource officers and suspensions. Not causality, but a correlation between those issues. And one thing we want to disrupt as educators is the school to prison pipeline. And we know that when students are suspended out of school or incarcerated as a juvenile, it increases the likelihood as adults that they’ll spend time in prison. We consider that very important to us as educators to disrupt that pathway,” says Dr. Engel.

The board is already getting feedback from those who support officers in schools and others who don’t.
Two of them shared their opposite views Monday night.

” If our schools are safer it’s because of the work done by social workers, counselors, mental health crisis providers, school nurses, crossing guards and others. We want to see our community reinvest dollars currently allocated for SRO’s allocated to employ people with the same level of education and knowledge as the rest of the school staff,”  Joella Striebel strongly supports ending the SRO’s in school program.

While Steve Korger said he feels officers in schools make kids feel safe, “Anyone that insists the 21 schools don’t need SRO’s after this year, need to speak to the students and staff at Longfellow Middle School. Because after we complete an active threat shooter in the school drill, each classroom that I have been in for the past five years during that drill, the students overwhelmingly state to me and the teacher that they are glad the SRO is at the school protecting them.”

The new four-person committee has a tight timeline of three weeks to gather information with an end date of July 27th. However, they are not expected to have a final decision by that time or even by the beginning of the school year. In all likelihood, SRO’s will be there on the first day of school until a decision is made.
But, their contract ends in June of next year.