By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – Starting with the 2021-22 school year, it’s likely all school resource officers (SROs) working within the Green Bay school district will be equipped with body-worn cameras.
The topic was up for discussion at the July 12 school board meeting.
“We have an agreement with the City of Green Bay to provide our school community resource officers,” Melissa Thiel Collar, the district’s legal counsel said. “When we entered into that agreement… the city did not have body-worn cameras.”
Now that they do, Thiel Collar said a contract addendum is needed.
“In December, the city, with the help of the Green Bay Packers, was able to obtain body cameras for its officers,” she said. “We discussed with the city at the time – given that we were on the verge of returning back in person and that they had to train their officers – that we would wait to work out the language as an addendum to the contract and implement those body-worn cameras in our schools starting with the 2021-22 school year.”
Thiel Collar said the addendum includes specific body camera language in respect to usage within schools.
“Importantly, the body-worn cameras will remain inactive in our schools as officers are performing those really great relationship-building functions that they perform every day in our schools,” she said. “So for the majority of their service to our children and our school and our community those body-worn cameras will remain inactive.”
Thiel Collar said at the point when officers need to engage in law enforcement activity, the cameras will engage and create recordings.
She said the body cameras will serve as an additional resource if needed.
“Most of the things that happen in our schools are being recorded anyway (through our surveillance cameras),” Thiel Collar said. “ So the body-worn cameras, it will provide another angle or a different perspective.”
Lori Blakeslee said the district has a total of 1,692 surveillance cameras in its school buildings.
She said in general, cameras are located on the exterior of the schools, hallways, stairwells, gyms, cafeterias/commons and other areas of concern.
The district funds 11 SROs, who work from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at a designated school during the school year.
Each officer has an office at their designated school but remains a Green Bay Police Department employee, not a district employee.
Trustees will formally vote on the addendum at their meeting in August.
Independent hearing officer
The school board unanimously agreed to continue using an independent hearing officer (IHO) to preside over district expulsion hearings.
Trustees approved hiring an IHO in the spring, but only for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.
A vote is needed on the hiring each school year.
“This is an annual thing that we would have to approve, we always approve it for one year and we have to revisit it every summer,” Board President Eric Vanden Heuvel said.
The board approved hiring an IHO in the spring for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.
Not all trustees were in full support of using an IHO, however, the uncertainty of Title IX requirements in regards to expulsion hearings, which involve sexual assault or harassment allegations, prompted the unanimous vote.
“As I’ve said before, I do have some concerns, not that there aren’t certain advantages to using the hearing officer,” Trustee Andrew Becker said. “Because things are in flux with the new federal administration, and what might be happening with the status of certain Title IX rules and just the nature of getting back to in-person school, I will vote ‘yes’ on this hearing officer one more time. But for me, it is not a precedent setting. For me it is a necessary situation because of some uncertainties and whether the board is able to hear (expulsion hearings) under current federal code.”
An IHO will continue to preside over expulsion hearings.
If expulsion is recommended, the school board is required to review the order within 30 days.
The board would have the authority to approve, reverse or modify the hearing officer’s order.
Face masking requirement
The school board’s decision to continue a face mask policy for schools housing K-8 grades students received backlash at the July 12 meeting.
Dozens of parents and community members filled the boardroom Monday applauding and cheering as parent Jennifer Grant, who said she chooses to open enroll her children into a neighboring district because of Green Bay’s mask policy, spoke during the public forum portion of the meeting.
“We planned on sending our son to Red Smith for kindergarten this upcoming school year, but at this time we are not,” Grant said. “The entire school year, I have watched the Green Bay school district two steps behind neighboring districts… Children in this district are paying the price for your decisions and are now behind. It is time to listen to the parents of this district.”
The mask policy wasn’t up for discussion or action at the July 12 meeting.
However, Vanden Heuvel said it will be back on the board table at a special meeting at 5 p.m. Monday, July 26.
“The purpose of that board meeting will be to look at policy recommendations regarding our mask policy,” Vanden Heuvel said.
Becker said he requested the item be on the July 12 meeting agenda and questioned Vanden Heuvel on how time-sensitive topics get on the full board agendas with the new committee structure.
“Part of the reason that I was hoping to at least have it on this agenda for discussion even though it probably wouldn’t be voted on until later, part of it was to be before the start of the second round of summer school,” Becker said. “I guess some clarification (is needed) on how this works if something is more time-sensitive.”
Vanden Heuvel said it was about timing.
“A month ago, maybe a little less than a month ago, the board sat down and looked at this issue and voted 6-1 in favor of keeping masks in place,” he said. “Your (Andrew’s) request came up three weeks later to discuss it again. I worked with the vice president and the superintendent to figure out the best way to proceed looking at the issue again, knowing we just took a vote on it just a few weeks ago…. July 26 was the next time. It was certainly taking into consideration your request and also the most recent time that the board had discussed this item.”
Becker said it is important to state the board’s intent for the fall.
“Maybe there is more up in the air about summer school,” he said. “But I think to say what our intent is for the fall is important… My hope was that maybe there would have been some consensus about saying what our plans are for the fall, even if the rest of it had to wait.”