The Madison Metropolitan School District school board voted Dec. 14, despite heavy opposition, to continue to keep police officers in Madison’s four main high schools through June 2022.
School board president Mary Burke stated their reasoning for supporting the program was so the district can directly influence how police officers are present in schools.
But this decision will, without a doubt, continue to have a negative impact on students, many of whom are low-income students or students of color, and will directly perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline.
For those not familiar with the concept of a school-to-prison pipeline, it speaks to the disproportionate rates of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds ending up in the prison industrial complex as a result of harsh disciplinary actions enforced by schools and other aspects. Essentially, the practices and policies adopted by public education systems have a direct correlation with the incarceration of young adults.
The purpose of a school district should be to provide a safe space for young people to learn, grow and prepare to face the world ahead of them. Keeping police officers in schools takes away from that — it degrades students and sends the message that they are a danger that needs to be kept under control.
I grew up attending Milwaukee Public Schools, and I have attended schools where I was subjected to a daily scan and saw police officers present in the hallways and outside the school on a daily basis. I have never felt less safe in school than when I was forced to share the space with police officers who made it evident that their purpose was to punish — never to protect.
Officers in schools perpetuate and reinforce the idea for many of these young students that they are a danger and a menace to the those around them. In my experience, often when officers have been called to intervene in a situation, it has been unnecessary and unwarranted.
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I have seen administrators take advantage of their positions of power and call the cops on students whose biggest offense may have been waiting in the wrong spot after school for their ride.
Imagine as a young adult going to school with notebooks and leaving in handcuffs because you chose to wait in the wrong spot. Imagine what it feels like at that age to have officers run into your classroom in front of your peers, and drag you out to arrest you.
This decision to keep police officers in schools does not send the message to the students that “we are here to protect you,” it sends a message that “we are here to make sure you obey us.”
Simon Guma ([email protected]) is a junior studying community and nonprofit leadership. He is also a PEOPLE scholar and a member of the professional development team for the Intercultural Dialogues course.