Activists raise ‘Police Free School’ flags, push for MMSD board vote to end contract for school resource officers

MADISON, Wis. – Activists are pushing for education leaders to vote to end the Madison Metropolitan School District’s contract with Madison Police and remove school resource officers from the city’s four high schools.

The MMSD Board of Education will hold a special session to vote on the contract Monday. Ahead of the vote, the group Freedom Inc. held a Police Free Schools rally downtown Thursday afternoon.

The group started at the Capitol, then marched to King St., where they stopped at the State Education Building. After a few speakers, the group raised two flags – a yellow one reading ‘Police Free School’ and a black flag with what appears to be a pig crossed out.

Leaders in support of removing police from schools, including Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway who is co-sponsoring a resolution to end the contract, point to recent protests helping spur change.

“People are asking for real, substantive changes, and the City is responding,” Rhodes-Conway wrote in a statement.

Freedom Inc. has been working for years to remove school resource officers, with concerns including racial inequity, but the group’s youth justice director Bianca Gomez said recent deaths including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have forced people to pay attention.

Gomez said money spent on police in schools can better be used for programs focused on mental health, restorative justice, youth jobs and scholarships – anything that can provide opportunities for black and brown students.

“Our youth have been demanding to invest, instead of investing millions of dollars into police, into discipline, into suspension, into expulsion, into all of these punitive forms of violence that we do to young people, we can actually invest in their leadership, wellness, creativity – give youth the opportunity to lead,” Gomez said. “They didn’t give up. They knew the importance of fighting for liberation.”

At the same time, Interim Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl said the department feels the SROs have real value for students and staff and serve as a professional, progressive model for resource officers nationwide. He said he’s disappointed at the prospect of them being taken out of their positions and worries about unintended consequences.

“There will be a lower level of service that we’re able to provide to the four high schools once this happens, so I’m disappointed in it,” Wahl said. “I understand it’s sort of the way the political train is moving now. Our SROs are fantastic officers, really dedicated to students, faculty and staff. I think it will be a loss.”

The decision to vote on whether to keep school resource officers comes roughly two weeks after MMSD Board President Gloria Reyes announced that a new sub-committee would look into alternatives to having police in schools. Before that, the Madison teachers’ union called for the removal of police from schools.

On Wednesday, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said she and several City Council Alders are co-sponsoring a resolution to end the school district’s contract.