‘The school needs help’: MMSD plans district-wide analysis to study uptick in violence following fights at East High School

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MADISON, Wis. — The Madison Metropolitan School District plans to conduct a district-wide analysis to study the reasons behind an uptick in violence at schools in the city, Superintendent Dr. Carlton Jenkins said Monday.

Jenkins’ comments came during a special school board meeting focused on ways to combat violence at East High School during a school year that has seen numerous fights.

Last week, multiple fights broke out on the school grounds, which police broke up using pepper spray. Five students were taken to the hospital to be treated for pepper spray-related injuries.

Two students were cited for their involvement in the fights, which led the district to “refine short-term and long-term safety plans” at the school.

RELATED: ‘We don’t feel safe’: Fights at East High lead to students pepper sprayed, citations, and ambulances

At Monday’s meeting, frustration was clear from the voices of speakers concerned about the violence.

The main argument among commenters was whether or not to reinstate school-related police officers.

Some are for bringing SROs back, believing violence has only gotten worse since their removal from Madison back in the summer of 2020.

“We need all hands on deck, all levels of support for security there because the kids are scared to death that something is going to happen,” concerned parent Travis Dobson said.

Others are completely against the idea.

“We need to ask how we can ensure that they are safe? How can we help them to learn socially and emotionally? The answers need to come from those that are not focused on crime and punishment but rather support and healing,” Tina Hogle, the parent of a former Memorial student, said.

Superintendent Dr. Carlton Jenkins is also against bringing the officers back into schools.

Instead, Jenkins said he believes the best path forward is to continue working with teachers, students and the community on other solutions. 

“I do not believe that resource officers and isolation in schools will make the difference. I think we need to change mindsets in our community and work together. We cannot count anyone out,” Jenkins said.

RELATED: ‘It takes a village’: East High parents organize to support students daily over lunch hour, dismissal

Board members did not take any votes on a permanent solution Monday evening.

When the school board voted unanimously last June to end the district’s contract with the Madison Police Department, board president Gloria Reyes, a former police officer, said it was “time for all institutions to take a hard look at what they do and how they do it and how they feed into the racist practices within their own institutions in our community.”

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway called the move, “an important piece of the conversation about reimagining public safety,” while then-Acting Police Chief Vic Wahl called the officers’ removal “disappointing.”

The city’s Common Council voted weeks later to finalize the officers’ removal from school buildings.