La Crosse area residents voice opinions in open forum about school district’s SRO program

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – The La Crosse School District is currently taking a closer look at its School Resource Officer program.

School leaders say students of color in the district have voiced their concerns with SRO’s.

They’ve pointed to data showing a higher rate of suspensions for students of color, although that is not clear if that’s happened locally.

Twenty-two La Crosse area residents voiced many of their own opinions on whether or not the La Crosse School District should keep it’s SRO program in an open forum Monday evening. After roughly an hour and a half, folks were split on the topic.

“No one is bringing to light the positive things that the SRO program has done in our schools,” says Sarah Graves, who’s husband is an SRO at Logan High School.

Graves says SRO’s are more than just officers.

“The connections these officers have is priceless to our schools,” Graves said. “This is a positive way to portray the police, instead of only bringing them in when there is a problem.”

Marlis O’Brien’s son is in special ed at Logan High School. She says for 2-3 weeks, her son would cry before going to school.

“He’s seen his teachers bitten, slapped, kicked, pushed, their hair pulled out,” O’Brien said.

She says the SRO helped with her son’s confidence.

“He would, you know, take care of them and he would look out for them,” O’Brien said. “And my son finally was willing to go back to school without crying every morning.”

But others disagreed, pointing to problems with systemic racism nationally.

“We have to understand that the institution of policing in our country continues to cause harm, devastation,” Laura Abellera said, who works in social justice advocacy.

Takobie Robinson, a freshman at Logan High School, has had his own negative experience with an SRO.

“Last year, my eighth grade year, I had an incident with an SRO who kicked an apple at me, and told me to pick it up,” Robinson said. “I refused to pick up the apple, and he told me that he was going to suspend me, and that he wanted me to stay after to clean up the lunch room.”

Two of Todd Olson’s kids still go to school here. He says the SRO program should stay, but needs to be adjusted.

“Are there bad situations? Yes, it is unfortunate,” Olson said. “But we need to look at the positive and correct the negative. Don’t dwell on the negative.”

The Board of Education is telling district administration to provide an update on the future of the program no later than November 16.

The current SRO contract expires in June of next year.