Students, parents, and teachers share terrifying descriptions of violence spinning out of control in Madison schools
Ad hoc committee’s top concern is becoming a permanent committee
Freedom Inc. will likely be part of the “solution”
Mar. 24, 2023 | MacIver News Service
Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea for Madison schools to get rid of their school resource officers (SROs) after all.
The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) conducted a survey at the end of last semester on school safety and student wellness. Respondents said they want the district to get serious about security and consider bringing back the SROs.
MMSD had previously contracted with the Madison Police Department for 20 years to provide SROs at its four main high schools. There was more than enough trouble to keep them busy. In the 2019-2020 school year (which only lasted 119 days), officers had to deal with 84 incidents that involved 28 arrests. They ranged from possession of dangerous weapons to fighting to trespassing to stealing.
Most of the students arrested were black, and the school board accused the police of racial profiling. The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis prompted the Madison School Board to take action locally. It decided unanimously to end the permanent police presence in Madison schools.
“Recent events have highlighted the racism, fear, and violence that black people experience every day. And systemic racism places an undue burden on the achievement of our black and brown students, and for those reasons I support ending the contract with MPD,” Board member Chris Carusi explained at a special board meeting on June 29, 2020.
“It’s not a developmentally appropriate solution to arrest and incarcerate children,” Board member Ali Muldrow said.
Board member Nicki Vander Meulen said “childhood is a place of learning, a place where you’re going to make mistakes, not a place that will haunt you, and not a place where there should be criminal ramifications.”
Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore promised the community that “we will have safe schools and we are committed to ensuring that.”
Unfortunately, it does not appear the school district followed through on that promise. After students were finally allowed to return to class after a year of virtual learning because of the Covid-19 shutdowns, district officials noticed students seemed more disengaged and violent than before. Naturally, they formed a special committee to study the problem.
“We, therefore, ask our Madison community to support the MMSD BOE Safety & Student Wellness Ad Hoc Committee in our efforts to create a school environment that is engaging and welcoming for all students,” according to the district.
The committee included representatives from the student body, district administration, the board of education, the city, the county, and the teachers’ union. After meeting for several months, it conducted a survey from Nov. 8 – Dec. 19, 2022 of teachers, students and caregivers for grades 6 – 12. The committee received 9,549 responses.
The surveys revealed a terrifying situation throughout Madison’s school district brought on by an overly permissive environment. Students complained of “too many fights,” and feeling “unsafe in hallways, common areas, bathrooms and buses.” Bullying has become a major problem. It was mentioned 450 times in the survey responses. Students attribute these problems to an environment with “no consequences.”
Some female students reported that they won’t use the bathrooms at school because “they are not safe, drugs are done in there, and destruction, and even sex.”
The teachers were well aware of these problems.
“This month I’ve seen a lot of students pushing, shoving, and verbally harassing each other during passing time,” one anonymous respondent wrote.
“I am concerned about the amount of alcohol and drug use happening inside the school building,” another wrote.
Parents were also allowed to provide feedback and they didn’t hold back.
“I want to send my children to our neighborhood school, but not when disruptive, swearing, sexually harassing students are sent right back to class without consequence,” one parent wrote.
There were plenty of suggestions on how to fix these problems including “remove disruptive students from class,” “more security guards all over the schools,” and “consider metal detectors.” There were even about 50 respondents who specifically recommended that the district “bring back SROs.”
As one respondent articulated, “While a difficult decision I believe that SRO are still necessary and provide more of a benefit than not.”
The committee had the chance to discuss those troubling reports during its Jan 19th meeting. Unfortunately, when given the chance to share reactions, no one said a word about the violence students, teachers, and parents described in the surveys. The committee members were all perky and upbeat as they talked around the elephant in the room. Several said there weren’t any surprises in the responses because, as one student representative put it, “It’s very reflective of what students are thinking and what I’ve heard students’ parents say as well.”
One item that the ad hoc committee did show genuine concern over was its desire to transition from ad hoc to permanent committee. As an ad hoc committee, it was only given 18 months to complete all its work. It wants the school board to create a permanent panel that meets quarterly to discuss safety and wellness issues. It would advise the superintendent directly, bypassing the school board. That panel would include 21 members, including 3 representatives from “community partners”.
One of those community partners will most certainly be Freedom Inc, which is a taxpayer-funded radical, political activist organization that helped orchestrate illegal actions in Madison throughout 2020. They helped protect rioters from police on State Street during the George Floyd riots. They blockaded major thoroughfares including US Highway 12. They terrorized public officials in their homes and vandalized public buildings and streets. MMSD has been partnering with Freedom Inc. for years.
Freedom Inc. played a pivotal role in pressuring the district to end the SRO contract in 2020. Starting in 2018, members of Freedom Inc.’s Freedom Youth Squad disrupted several board meetings by waving banners, shouting obscenities, and even destroyed someone’s cell phone who was recording the incidents. They also vandalized administrative building and the street in front of it. They even protested outside the home of school board president Gloria Reyes to pressure her into voting against the police contract in June 2020. It worked. Soon after, not only did MMSD’s board cancel the SRO contract, it also invited Freedom Inc. to be part of its School Safety and Security Ad Hoc Committee in 2021. When discussing community partners for the proposed permanent school safety panel at its Feb. 2nd meeting in 2023, the current ad hoc committee mentioned Freedom Inc. by name.
“You have community people on this, and they’re going to play a very big role, and I think that’s probably one of the things Freedom Inc. has wanted us to do long ago,” a district official explained.
Given that trajectory of school safety policy in MMSD, it’s not surprising that the committee doesn’t want to talk about SROs or anything concerning the growing violence in Madison schools. In addition to making itself a permanent panel, some of the other issues the committee’s discussed at length included: how to give students credit for participating in the committee, when to offer mental health services, and educating students more about consent to prevent sexual assaults. None of the committee members expressed any interest in even discussing bringing back SROs. There were no discussions about punishments or holding students accountable for criminal or even just disruption behavior.
When the ad hoc committee finished its final recommendations for the school board, it included very little that addressed violent and criminal behaviors. It simply recommended that the district conduct an analysis of safety in school buildings to determine if more security assistants are needed or not.
Meanwhile, the committee’s first recommendation was the creation of the permanent panel. Its second recommendation was more salads bars and more free meals. Those who had hoped for something in the way of consequences for violent and disruptive behavior were let down.
One such individual who provided feedback to the ad hoc committee had an ominous warning for what comes next. He had been a teacher in New York City and is a strong supporter of restorative justice. All the same, he wrote, “unless order is restored by the imposition of consequences, the end of that road will be flight by black as well as white families who value education, and a failed school system, in which it is the most disadvantaged kids who will be trapped.”Final-Recommendations-to-Board-of-Education__2.16.2023