Kenosha’s healing process and school board races rocked by off-duty cop incident

The Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) has been left in upheaval following an incident earlier this month in which an off-duty Kenosha police officer, serving as a security guard, put his knee on the neck of a 12 year old girl while trying to break up a fight.

The incident threw a wrench in the community’s bid to recover from the events of the past two years and threw a new issue into a contentious school board election. Three of the seven board members are up for re-election next month.

The district and its board have had to deal with the effects on students of the unrest and violence following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in August 2020 and ongoing fights with parents over warrants. of mask. Now the community is debating the appropriate place for police officers in schools, as it is once again forced to grapple with difficult issues of policing and race.

On March 4, a fight broke out between two girls in the cafeteria at Lincoln Middle School. A video of the incident, posted by KUSD, shows the two girls starting to push each other before Shawn Guetschow, the security guard, arrives to try to break up the fight.

Guetschow and one of the girls fall to the ground in the melee, the video shows. Guetschow then rolls over her and puts his knee on her neck for 22 seconds while he handcuffs the girl.

The girl’s father, Jerrel Perez, and his lawyer, Drew DeVinney, have announced their intention to file a complaint. Citing possible litigation, KUSD declined to comment on the incident.

In the weeks following the fight, Guetschow was placed on paid leave while the District and Kenosha Police Department investigated. On March 16, he resigned, writing in his resignation letter to district superintendent Dr. Bethany Ormseth that the lack of support he received from the district led to his decision.

“Given the events that have taken place and the heightened attention this incident at Lincoln Middle School has caused in the community, the mental and emotional strain it has bought (sic) my family, and the lack of communication and/or support I have received from the district, I can no longer continue my employment with the Kenosha Unified School District,” he wrote.

At a school board meeting on Tuesday, nearly two dozen community members spoke during the public comment period. Many of them implored the council to focus on making the school safe for pupils.

“In just the past few weeks since the incident at Lincoln Middle School, my phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” said Dr. Dominique Pritchett, a Kenosha-based therapist who works primarily with black patients. “Our black and brown girls don’t feel seen, supported or safe to go to school.”

“But having a child almost killed in front of their peers perpetuates the trauma, the compounded trauma, the racial trauma, the contextualized trauma, all the trauma they’ve gone through, not just in the last two years with the pandemic, but since the day they were born black and brown,” she continued. “And so I invite everyone to have conversations with your children to really look at what is valuable and important to you, because they all have to keep space together. And so when you think about the officer who knelt on this individual’s neck, no, that’s not a direct correlation to George Floyd, but my God, it’s pretty similar. And thank goodness she’s here to tell her story. So black girls and brown girls are being kicked out, shunned, and pushed back within our school systems. We don’t need to be their spokesperson. They have voices, are we listening?

Speakers opposing the debate versus those calling for cops to be removed from schools also said they felt student safety was being ignored.

“With the Lincoln incident the district now has another black eye, it’s already dividing the community even further,” said Robert Tierney, who spoke wearing a pro-police Thin Blue Line hat. “The safety of students and teachers should be a top priority for KUSD. Parents shouldn’t have to worry about violence when dropping their kids off at school. We have already asked teachers to fill too many roles. And now some want them to become de-escalation specialists. Teachers are not policemen. Keep the officers in the schools.

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As the community debates the merits of a political decision such as whether or not police officers should walk the school hallways, it’s important to remember that students have been through a lot over the course of of the last few years and that their healing must be prioritized, according to Travis Wright, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in childhood trauma and schooling in high-stress communities.

Wright says the fight in Lincoln and Guetschow’s response may bring up old feelings of fear and trauma that began during the Troubles in late summer 2020.

“An event like this triggers all that old pain and underscores even more that people should be afraid,” he says. “To think of a community trying to heal, every time something like this happens it makes them more scared, less willing to be vulnerable and strengthens beliefs, thoughts and opinions. It can undermine all that progress.

“I think when these events happen with consistent players, so if the police are constantly involved in these traumas, you’re potentially looking at generations, it’s a generation of people who are now fearful and skeptical,” he continues. “I think we’re looking at years of mistrust and healing that’s going to have to happen.”

In statements since the incident, KUSD has highlighted the counseling opportunities available to students and their families.

“Kenosha Unified offers a variety of programs to meet the social and emotional needs of our students, staff and families,” a statement read. “Students in need of immediate support can make an appointment directly with their school counselor.”

Wright says these counseling opportunities are important, but the district must first work to make sure students feel safe in school.

“The first thing is that schools have to be safe,” he says. “You can’t just tell people they’re safe, you have to make them safe. The district, the school, and each individual teacher are going to have to think about “how can I make this place safe?” How can I strengthen the personal safety, the emotional safety of the children? Physically and emotionally he has to become secure.

“These things can’t happen and when they happen people have to take a stand, say ‘it’s not okay and I support you’,” he continues. “We must prioritize the safety and sense of respect for our children over political interest. Children need to know where they stand. This is the limit and what we will not tolerate. This must be reinforced at all levels. Once people feel safe, we need to have emotionally corrective experiences. Children should be given the opportunity to talk about how they feel, to ask questions, to voice their concerns in a way that they are heard and respected. We need to address these concerns and fears in a way that helps them feel validated.

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