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Some Madison schools sign on to Black Lives Matter event that calls for dumping police

December 22, 2018

Some Madison schools will participate next year in a Black Lives Matter event that features a call to “fund counselors, not cops” — despite the School Board’s decision this week to keep police officers in the Madison School District’s four main high schools.

Hamilton Middle School said in an email to community members Thursday that it would participate in Black Lives Matter at School week Feb. 4-8. “Other schools in Madison” are also participating in the event, according to the email.

The BLM at School movement began in 2016, according to the group’s website, and its first “week of action” was in February of this year. In addition to cutting funding for school-based police officers — commonly known as educational, or school, resource officers — the movement’s other three goals are to:

End “zero tolerance” discipline and implement more restorative justice programs.Hire more black teachers.Mandate black history and ethnic studies in K-12 curriculum.

Andrew Waity, president of the Madison teachers union, Madison Teachers Inc., said in a Friday email that “MTI members have been interested in participating in this event for a while and first brought it forward last year.”

But that “does not change our existing position of support for Educational Resource Officers in (Madison School District) high schools,” he said. “We believe that it is the responsibility of the district and (the Madison Police Department) to develop a contract that defines the roles and responsibilities of these officers.”

He said that when the union’s Faculty Representative Council voted in September to be a part of the week of action, “we did so using the existing Black Lives Matter platform,” which included the statement “Ending zero-tolerance policies and replacing them with restorative justice practices.”

On Monday, the School Board voted 4-2 to continue paying police to station one uniformed, armed officer at each of the district’s four main high schools — East, West, La Follette and Memorial — but only after amending the contract with the city to stipulate that the district has the authority to get rid of any of the officers.

The board’s decision came after a board ad hoc committee worked for nearly 20 months on whether to renew the contract with the city, and amid vocal opposition to doing so from activists with the social-justice group Freedom Inc., which has also called for redirecting funding from police to counseling.

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval has said the board’s amendment Monday was a “non-starter,” and Assistant City Attorney Marci Paulsen has said that any provision giving the district unilateral authority over removing a police officer from a school would not be legal. Both said state law and the city’s police union contract dictate when an officer can be removed.

On Friday, Koval said that in general, he defers to the school district on curriculum choices but called the “fund counselors, not cops” demand “an unfortunate dichotomy.”

“We would support more counselors AND cops in our schools as it is our belief that characterizations predicated on adversarial tones or couched as an ultimatum is unfair,” he said in an email. “Cops and counselors can and do work collaboratively in achieving the best possible resolutions for our students.”

Hamilton and district officials did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Waity said “there are a number of book studies and other professional development that educators can participate in” as part of the BLM event but wasn’t sure Friday how many schools will participate.

BLM at School T-shirts are on sale though MTI, at prices ranging from $5.75 to $8.

In November, a teacher at Hamilton Middle School allegedly used a racial slur in front of students, and resigned shortly thereafter. The incident was the first of four incidents over the course of two months in which a Madison schools staff member used a racial slur in front of students. The other three occurred at Jefferson Middle School and East and West High Schools.

The teacher at West will not be returning to the school, district spokeswoman Rachel Strauch-Nelson said Friday. It was unclear whether she would return to the district in any capacity; Strauch-Nelson said only that final action will be taken when the teacher returns from a leave she requested “for personal reasons.”

The teacher at East was a substitute and will not be working in the district again, district officials said. The district has declined to comment on the status of the other staffer.

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