116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Reflecting the Cedar Rapids school board’s decision to remove police from the city’s middle schools, the Cedar Rapids Police Department has proposed additional changes to the agreement for school resource officers that account for the reduction from seven to five officers.
With the start of the 2022-23 school year fast approaching, the Cedar Rapids City Council and school board have yet to approve the same contract outlining terms of the program that will station police officers this year at Kennedy, Washington, Jefferson and Metro high schools and Polk Alternative Education Center, but take them out of Cedar Rapids middle schools.
Ahead of next week’s school board and council meetings — slated for Aug. 8 and 9, respectively — Cedar Rapids police Lt. Cory McGarvey in an email Tuesday night shared with Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker the city’s final proposed revisions to the contract the school board passed July 11.
McGarvey asked that the district respond with confirmation of these changes by noon Friday so city officials could place the contract on the council’s Aug. 9 meeting agenda.
Asked whether this version of the contract would be placed on the board’s Aug. 8 meeting agenda and whether changes had been shared with the school board, district communications director Colleen Scholer in an email didn’t answer those questions but said the school board’s agenda would be posted online at noon Friday.
The school board’s earlier 5-2 decision is in conflict with a unanimous June 14 City Council vote that includes keeping police officers stationed each in McKinley STEAM Academy and Wilson Middle School, where police responded to a higher number of incidents this past academic year than in other middle schools.
Police data show that during the 2021-22 school year, there were 51 incidents across Cedar Rapids middle schools, 30 of which were at McKinley and Wilson, and they include issues such as simple assaults, schools threats and loaded weapons. The data encompasses any incidents generating a police report whether a school resource or patrol officer responded. The district reported 33 requests involving only school resource officers across elementary and middle schools.
The school board essentially approved permanently eliminating the “floater” officers that were deployed last year under an amended contract that removed officers from McKinley and Roosevelt and kept the two officers on call to all Cedar Rapids elementary and middle schools.
Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell last week offered for the city to pay for two school resource officers to free up funds for the district to allocate toward mental health and other services, but school board President David Tominsky said the board would not change its vote.
In the week since, the police department has reviewed the school board-approved changes to determine the impact on the workloads of the remaining five officers.
“We’ve heard loud and clear that they do not want SROs in the middle schools, so I’m accepting that,” Chief Wayne Jerman said.
In one amendment, the city proposed that any changes to a school resource officer’s regular assignment at the five schools to support needs at other schools must occur “with the approval of the SRO supervisor” — either Jerman or Lts. Cory McGarvey or Matt Welsh.
“Because we’re reducing staff, there is an impact on services provided,” City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said. “We will always do our best to serve the district and the students, but we think it’s very important that any requests for additional SRO resources be approved by (the police department).”
Jerman said if there is an incident at a school without permanently assigned school resource officers, and Kooiker calls one of the officer supervisors to apprise them of a situation, this would mean it is up to the supervisor whether to send a patrol officer or take a school resource officer away from their usual assignment to respond — but the district will receive service regardless.
School police get training above and beyond regular officers, including 40 hours through the National Association of School Resource Officers and in subjects such as adolescent behavior, relationship-building and restorative justice practices.
In collaboration with the school district, police have said the police department reduced criminal charges against students by increasing pre-charge diversions about 400 percent from previous school years to about 44. This progress was because “the SROs had the training and the time and the ability to redirect individuals into a diversion,” Jerman said.
“ … By not having an SRO at a school that is not staffed by an SRO, more than likely because of workload and staffing, if they need a police response they’re going to receive a patrol officer, ” Jerman said. “He or she may not have the level of expertise, experience and training that SROs have.”
Another change clarifies that school resource officers shall assist the district with facilitating lockdown drills specifically at school buildings staffed with school resource officers instead of at all school buildings twice per year.
Jerman said the department’s ability to do the same frequency of “run, hide and fight” training also may be limited with the reduction in officers, but the contract language already allows flexibility for the district and department to determine the frequency of training.
The district previously had a school security coordinator position in which someone coordinated and performed such training, Jerman said. As that role was left vacant, he said the police were able to fill in the gaps because there were seven officers.
“It’s not logical to assume that five SROs will be able to do the work of seven,” Jerman said.
Pomeranz said the results of the district’s survey of students, families and staff to assess perceptions of school resource officers show community support for the program. About 88 percent of the 762 students, or 16 percent of the student population, who responded reported feeling either very safe or somewhat safe with school resource officers in their buildings.
“I think we need to keep working together on a program that we believe is very important for the community and school system of Cedar Rapids,” Pomeranz said.
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