Madison Students Investigate School Safety Through Deliberative Democracy

MADISON, Wis. — From May 21st to 25th, 10th-grade students at La Follette High School in Madison, Wisconsin, will have the opportunity to dive deeper into a hotly debated current issue: whether the Madison School Board should renew its contract for educational resource officers (EROs) at district high schools.

Students will conduct a weeklong investigation into the basic facts underlying the issue, including questioning advocates on both sides and interviewing independent experts. In a process facilitated by Linn Davis, program manager of the nonpartisan nonprofit Healthy Democracy, and instructor Cody Houdek, students will craft a statement of key findings that will be delivered to the School Board’s Ad Hoc Committee on EROs as further information to consider in making their recommendations to the Board.

For 90 minutes each day, two classes of 10th-grade English students will progress through a deliberative process following this basic outline:

  • Day 1: introductions and training
  • Day 2: questions for advocates
  • Day 3: questions for independent experts
  • Day 4: deliberation on factual claims about the issue
  • Day 5: deliberation on the best reasons to both support and oppose

While this process is based on Healthy Democracy’s longstanding Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR) – in which everyday voters evaluate ballot measures in several states – this is the first time a process similar to the CIR will be piloted in a high school classroom setting. This will be a novel and groundbreaking classroom project – unique among experiential education programs in its topical currency, investigative depth, and deliberative process.

Please contact Linn Davis or Cody Houdek for additional details about the project, or if you would like to visit the classroom as an observer. A limited number of observers will be accommodated as space allows, and all observers must be approved in advance. For more info on Healthy Democracy, visit