Monona Grove High School’s School Resources Officer (SRO) will resume his post in the school following a Sept. 20 city council vote.
A renewal of the school district’s SRO program was approved by the school board on Aug. 11, after a year-long debate over whether police presence in schools is still necessary for the district.
Cottage Grove Village Council approved the deal for village SRO, Jessica Helgeland, five days later, on August 16, although Monona’s SRO, Luke Wunsch, has been awaiting City Council approval for over a year. ‘a month.
Monona Police Chief Brian Chaney Austin said the high school relied on patrol services for the first two weeks of school in Wunsch’s absence.
He said Wunsch “was able to fit” into most patrol calls sent to the high school, but doing so physically present in the school during that time would likely have been more effective.
The renewal, which will expire in 2024, fell to 3-2 among city council members, with one alder absent. Alders Molly Grupe and Jennifer Kuhr voted against.
“I am diametrically and philosophically opposed to the concept and position of an SRO,” said Grupe. “I greatly appreciate the frank and stimulating conversations I have had… but I don’t think I can, in good conscience, support this measure. “
Grupe, a special education teacher, cited the need to prioritize children as part of her decision to vote no, saying she had read research indicating that children of color were disproportionately affected by programs resource officers.
“Like Alder Grupe, I am concerned about this relationship with the school district,” Kuhr said. “I understand that the school board has worked diligently over the past year to try and address many of the concerns raised by the community, but I don’t see that there have been any changes in the relationship.”
“I haven’t seen any evidence of any built-in review period or any kind of protection for our officers who are being asked to step in when they probably shouldn’t,” he said. continued Kuhr. “I think we could do better.
However, City Council Chair Kathy Thomas, chair of the city’s public safety committee, said the deal had changed since it was last approved.
“They drastically changed the function of that particular officer who would be there,” Thomas said. “In the past, [the SRO] was for disciplinary and other purposes and was used for what a lot of people … said was inappropriate. “
Chaney Austin said the new agreement gives the SRO a more nuanced role in the school’s disciplinary process.
As mandatory legal reporters, district ORSs will be required to respond to situations of sexual assault or child abuse, the chief said.
He underlined the “resource” aspect of the agent’s role, indicating that his work will be just that: a resource and a model that students can rely on.
“This will likely be a rare occasion in which a physical arrest will be made or citations will be issued,” he said. “There are a series of mandates that I have given to the SRO regarding how it should operate in the school. “
Alder Doug Wood said he was happy to see this change.
“Some of the changes to the wording of the agreement on the duties of the school resources officer, which shift the focus away from discipline and make it clear that the ORS is not the disciplinary body of the district, are significant,” he said. Wood said.
The city will have the right to withdraw from the deal for any reason with 90 days notice, a provision in which Alder Kristie Goforth has said she finds solace.
“I think the 90-day contract withdrawal is great security, and that reassures me,” she said. “I believe that Chief Chaney Austin is of the highest integrity and… I trust his judgment and I think he deserves a chance to lead our ORS program.”
Chaney Austin said he hoped the police department “will continue to be there as a resource” in the school district for years to come.