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Kenosha educators, parents gather for discussion on safe, trauma-free schools

Posted at 5:22 PM, Apr 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-23 19:24:40-04

Security varies across the Kenosha Unified School District, and a recent violent incident has citizens questioning the right approach.

On Saturday, the Kenosha Education Justice Coalition (KEJC) held an open forum called "Safe and Trauma-Free Kenosha Schools."

The focus was a community conversation about policy to manage student behavior.

"To generate ideas about how we can make our schools better," said Kendra Koeppen Mulwana, the executive director of the Kenosha Education Association.

She presented an overview of security in place at the district's schools as well as national research about support for students. Research, she said, that shows a lack of social workers and psychologists in schools.

The coalition formed last June in response to social unrest and other issues in the city. Saturday's meeting came after another event in Kenosha that has drawn national attention.

On March 4, an off-duty police officer broke up a fight in Lincoln Middle School cafeteria. He subdued a 12-year-old girl, placed her hands behind her back, and put his knee on her neck.

That officer has resigned from Lincoln. According to Kenosha Police, he's on desk duty pending an investigation.

The KEJC said the Kenosha Unified School District employs three types of security.

Off-duty police officers are paid by the district and answer to the district. They don't present as police at schools.

School resource officers, or SROs, are on-duty police. They're assigned to schools and answer to Kenosha Police.

A third option is Security ESPs. They're also paid by the district and are not police. Pay and specialty training vary among the various security in schools.

The few dozen people gathered at Grace Welcome Center for the forum weren't there to decide which option is the best. That may come later.

"If the conversations we continue to have, eventually lead to that conversation, whether we should have SROs or off-duty police in schools, we're happy to have that conversation," said Koeppen Mulwana. "But for now — what's in place and how can we improve upon those."

Koeppen Mulwana's overview was followed by small groups. Parents, educators and others discussed security, but also student success and what's need to achieve that in addition to a safe classroom environment.

"We want to have diverse opinions when we're having these conversations, because everyone has different backgrounds and experience," said Koeppen Mulwana.

She said she hopes more people join the conversation on April 25 at the KUSD school board meeting.

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