116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Cedar Rapids — Ahead of a vote on the contract for police in schools during the 2022-23 academic year, the Cedar Rapids school board has voiced an interest in defining the role of school resource officers and exploring options for shifting resources toward mental health and other supportive services for students.
In a work session Wednesday evening focused on discussing the district’s school resource officer agreement with the Cedar Rapids Police Department, the seven-member board agreed to prioritize convening community stakeholders to contemplate how to address the root causes of violence and other behavioral issues in schools, instead of viewing the role of police in isolation.
The board is slated to vote Monday on the contract.
“Once the vote is done, what are we going to do?” asked board member Marcy Roundtree, who was a community engagement advocate at Washington High School before her election. “ … I don’t want to vote on this and however it ends up, then the rest of it goes away, because we’re still dealing with the same stuff.”
Roundtree said she wanted to get to the root causes of these issues. But knowing the larger conversation addressing the root causes of behavioral issues will take time to address, the board noted there’s still a decision to make on its contract with the city.
Cedar Rapids police and school officials agree with permanently assigning five police officers to Kennedy, Jefferson, Washington and Metro high schools and to Polk Alternative. But middle schools have been a point of contention.
Under terms advanced June 14 by the City Council, the city has proposed keeping an officer stationed each in McKinley STEAM Academy and in Wilson Middle School, where police responded to a higher number of incidents this past academic year. These two officers also could help address needs at other middle schools.
Two “floater” officers were deployed this past school year with the ability to move based on where the need arose. At the district’s request, Cedar Rapids police Lt. Cory McGarvey said, they were stationed mainly at Washington and Jefferson for much of the year.
Several school board members raised questions about how the officers were assigned to certain schools and ensuring it was not based on racial demographics of the school, as well as how the officers are used in middle schools.
Board member Nancy Humbles said the city’s proposal to station officers in Wilson and McKinley middle schools was “going backwards” — essentially reverting to previous contract terms before the “floaters” were used last year.
McGarvey, who attended the work session, told The Gazette the district and police saw “remarkable results last year” of changes made to reduce the racial disproportionality of arrests and increase pre-charge diversions, which were up 400 percent to about 44.
He said he liked the board’s idea of having “middle school SROs” instead of stationing them at specific schools, though in essence the city is proposing the police use McKinley and Wilson as a home base and moving elsewhere throughout the day.
“We’ll see what the board votes on next week, and then based on that, if it’s not what our City Council wants, I would envision that some Police Department representatives and some school personnel representatives will do some joint discussions and figure out how to make a compromise,” McGarvey said. “ … I’m all about getting these kids the support they need so that they aren’t having contact with law enforcement. The Police Department is 100 percent behind that.”
Given that children of color are arrested and charged at higher rates than their white peers, Roundtree said she wanted to see resources such as therapists geared toward helping those disproportionately affected by policing — and ideally “people that look like them” so students are willing to receive help.
While those on the outside looking in may disagree with keeping the officers, Roundtree said, she has seen the need and shared personal stories of officers being present when a fight broke out or seeing a loaded gun fall from someone who had entered a school.
“There's not a question in my mind as to whether they should be there or not,” Roundtree said. “I want them there, but maybe if we can look at some type of reform and clarity about what it looks like to have them in the environment where students are instead of dealing with some of the kids like criminals on the street.”
Humbles said it seems the focus has been on the officers when the issues and types of support needed for students are more broad. She said the Black Student Unions and other student voices needed to be involved in discussions about the other services needed.
“It takes a village to bring us all together and say how we move forward,” Humbles said.
School board member Jennifer Neumann said some students may feel safer with police in schools, while others may feel less safe.
“We say that we want every student to feel safe in schools,” Neumann said. “Realistically, what does that look like?”
Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker said this was the balance school officials were seeking to strike to promote an atmosphere of belonging and inclusion for all students and staff.
“This is a polarizing issue,” Kooiker said. “Our goal is to make sure all students feel safe and make sure we put the best programs in place to support all of our students and whatever that looks like.”
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