School board approves contract for ‘critical’ restorative justice services at La Follette, East high schools

MADISON, Wis. — On a 4-2 vote, the Madison Board of Education on Monday approved a $60,000 contract with a Milwaukee-based company to provide restorative justice services to La Follette and East high schools.

Under the contract with Blaquesmith, Inc., services will be available in the near future and run through the rest of the semester, the district’s chief academic officer Marvin Pryor told the board prior to the vote.

The program, district officials said, is designed to help students and staff members learn about and have the ability to facilitate restorative justice programs and mediate conflicts in the long term without outside help.

Several board members expressed concerns about the lack of bids for the contract and the outsourcing of the effort to a group outside Madison.

“It’s possible (local groups) are all too overwhelmed to take on this work, it’s possible that what we’re looking for does not match what they offer exactly, but we don’t know that unless we give them the opportunity to respond to a call for bids,” board member Cris Carusi, who voted against the contract, said. “I’m all for providing restorative justice services in our schools; the bid process is not usually time-consuming and I feel that we should revisit this after we put it out for bid.”

Pryor said the district and both schools are familiar with the company adding he is confident “they would not ask for someone that they did not believe in.”

“There’s a critical need,” he said. “La Follette has been without support for a while now. I realize the process of going out for quotes, but this is something that kind of cropped up on us (at) the last minute.”

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The move comes amid tumultuous school years at both schools. Multiple large fights have broken out at East High School, including one incident in November in which police pepper-sprayed more than half a dozen students to break up a fight.

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

Students at East also walked out earlier in the year after 17-year-old Baboucarr Nyang allegedly sexually assaulted a victim at a homecoming house party in October.

At La Follette, a student was arrested for allegedly bringing a stolen gun to school in December. Last month, two teenagers allegedly beat up a 15-year-old at the school to the point the victim needed surgery.