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Cedar Rapids schools ‘accept responsibility’ for two police officers ousted from middle schools
Police objected to officer removals from McKinley and Roosevelt
CEDAR RAPIDS — Though the Cedar Rapids school board has not yet voted on changes to a contract that calls for stationing uniformed police officers inside seven schools, the district removed officers from two middle schools before the academic year started over the police department’s objections.
In an email to Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman, Superintendent Noreen Bush said the district would “accept responsibility” in the absence of officers at McKinley STEAM Academy and Roosevelt Middle School, the only two of the district’s six middle schools where officers were assigned. The school district and police department, however, continue to pay for the two school officers even though they have been redeployed to assist with calls for service and other patrol matters.
The school board is expected to vote on proposed changes to the school resource officer program — including removing officers permanently from middle schools — during a Sept. 13 meeting.
The talk of changes comes amid concerns that Black students disproportionately face charges and arrests under school resource officer programs, which are in place at scores of schools nationwide. In the proposal the board will consider, the Cedar Rapids district and Cedar Rapids Police Department set joint goals of reducing arrests and charges filed of all students by 50 percent or more, and of bringing a 50 percent or greater reduction in the disproportionality of arrests of Black students.
It is unclear if board members knew the middle school officers would be removed before a vote is held on changing the contract. Multiple board members declined to comment when contacted by The Gazette, instead referring questions to the board president and the district’s spokeswoman.
In an email, board President Nancy Humbles said the board appreciates the time and attention spent on evaluating the program. But she did not respond to questions about whether she believes officers should remain in the middle schools until the board has voted to modify the contract.
At a school board meeting last month, Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker said officers were pulled from McKinley and Roosevelt before the first day of school this fall to reduce the “trauma” that would occur if they were removed later in the academic year.
“To put them in a building connected to kids and adults — there’s emotion. People love their (school resource officers),” Kooiker told the board.
To remove them later would “create trauma not only for the (school resource officers), but for our students and staff members there, so we put a hold on them reporting this week,” Kooiker said last month. “It will be easy to put them in to a school to provide that support, but it would be very hard to have them make those connections again and say tomorrow, ‘Oh sorry, you don’t report after you’ve connected to all the kids on the first day.’”
It is unclear what services — if any — are replacing the two officers. District officials did not respond directly to questions from The Gazette.
In an email, Bush said work with the police department is “still underway, including the 28E Agreement amendment.”
The school board and city must mutually agree to modifications to that agreement, which outlines the school resource officer program. The city will remain in compliance with the current agreement, according to the police department, which includes the cost of the two officers who were removed.
Emails: School resource off... by Gazette Online
The program costs the Cedar Rapids Community School District and the city just over $950,000 a year for seven officers.
School resource officers at McKinley and Roosevelt removed their belongings from their offices last month and have not been given a timeline from the district on when or if they might return.
In the presentation to the school board last month, district officials suggested the officers could be replaced with restoration and safety coordinators, campus monitors and restoration facilitators. These were examples provided to the district by the Des Moines Public School District, which removed officers from its schools last academic year.
In an email to Bush on Aug. 19, Jerman said he is concerned about removing the officers from McKinley and Roosevelt.
“I want to be very clear that the Cedar Rapids Police Department does not support the removal of the middle school (school resource officers),” the chief wrote. “We feel so strongly about our program and its positive impact that we would much rather share our (school resource officers) with all six middle schools rather than have them removed from our two existing middle schools. Middle-school aged children need a support network and our officers can be part of that network.”
The department said it had not been informed of any new safety measures put in place in the absence of the McKinley and Roosevelt officers. On Aug. 20, Jerman emailed Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz to tell him of the removal of the two officers.
“There are many incidents that have been prevented because officers employed conflict resolution and was prepared to deter violence,” Jerman wrote in an email shared with The Gazette. “The police department is concerned about the safety of students and staff in these schools, especially with the carrying of weapons and physical altercations that have occurred in and around the schools.”
School resource officers remain at five other schools: Jefferson, Kennedy, Washington and Metro high schools and Polk Alternative Education Center.
Other changes proposed to the program include: Officers wearing a “soft uniform” to be more approachable and less intimidating; officers seeking diversion options for first offenses where possible; schools not involving officers in enforcing school rules or discipline; and officers not listening to the questioning of students by school officials unless requested for safety.
The Gazette has made a pair of open records requests to the district in connection with the program, but still is awaiting completion of those requests. The Gazette has agreed to pay an estimated $782 for emails received by school board members between July 1 and Aug. 31 related to the program. Meanwhile, The Gazette awaits a revised estimate for a second request for emails to and from district administrators. An initial estimate put the cost of those records at more than $3,700. The district asserted it needed to hire outside legal counsel at $175 an hour to review whether the emails requested contain confidential information.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa estimated there are 150 school resource officers statewide as of March 2021.
The National Association of School Resource Officers estimates there are between 14,000 and 20,000 school resource officers in the United States. The association estimates about 20 percent of all U.S. K-12 schools — public and private — use school resource officers.
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