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School District of La Crosse hears community thoughts on SROs

Published: Sep. 15, 2020 at 4:51 PM CDT
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) -

Schools with school resource officers (SRO) often have an increased rate of suspensions for students of color, that’s according to the the American Journal of Education.

For 27 years the La Crosse School District has funded a School Resource Officer program.

The district’s contract with the police department is expiring next year.

In the 2018-19 school year, the district paid $250,000 for five school resource officers.

A committee has formed to decide if that arrangement should continue.

Last night it heard ideas from the community.

“Students deserve to feel valued, seen and heard-- not criminalized or policed in their place of learning, community and growth," said Laura Abellera, a community member. “I am asking that you follow the call from marginalized youth from your community to end the SRO contract in our school.”

In total, 22 spoke at the community forum.

The program was criticized by some, while others praised it like Marlis O’Brien who says there were times she wouldn’t have sent her son to school if not for the SRO.

“At a time when there are more school shootings and more attacks in schools, I think that pulling the plug on a program, such a vital program that protects our children-- they’re really our first and last line of defense,” said O’Brien, mother to a student at Logan High School.

Doug LeClair was instrumental in hiring the first school liaison officer in 1993.

He says it’s important for students to have their first encounter with law enforcement as an advisor.

“I firsthand observed, evaluated, and watched this program grow and have a positive impact on our school district,” said LeClair, former Logan High School associate principal.

Instead of SROs, Monica Lazere recommends hiring additional social workers.

“I was called in many times to classrooms where there was trouble and I helped with what I could because I have skills that I was trained to do that,” said Lazere, a former Central High School social worker.

Others say we need to walk in an SRO’s shoes before making a decision on the future of the program.

“You are making a decision that would effect the safety and the well being of our children and teachers,” said Sarah Graves, wife to an SRO. “Once school is back in the classroom, I would challenge each of our board members to spend some quality time with an SRO.”

Another community forum will be held in October. Details haven’t been announced.

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