116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids school board member Dexter Merschbrock is calling for the school board to delay a vote expected later this month on a new contract for school resource officers — police — in the district’s schools.
In an email shared with The Gazette, Merschbrock said resource officers in Cedar Rapids schools may not create an environment where all students feel safe and supported, one of the goals stated in the contract.
“Previous survey data from students and family, as well as limited survey data we have received so far from the most recent survey, shows the program may do the opposite,” he said in his email.
“For a significant percentage of students, not only does survey data show that the program fails to meet this goal, but in fact the program is making them feel unsafe in the school environment,” Merschbrock said. “Continuing with a program that is shown to undermine its own stated goal is hard to justify.”
Included as recipients in the email were Superintendent Noreen Bush, board secretary Laurel Day, school board President David Tominsky and school board member Cindy Garlock.
Merschbrock said at least one other board member has expressed a desire for a work session about the program ahead of a vote. He did not name who that board member was.
There is “skepticism” in the quality of data from a survey sent to parents, students and staff in May and relevant questions about the school resource officer program weren’t included when the survey was originally sent out, Merschbrock said.
The results of the survey are to be shared with the board ahead of a school board meeting at 5:30 p.m. June 13 at the Educational Leadership and Support Center, 2500 Edgewood Rd. NW, Cedar Rapids. A new contract between the district and police department will be up for a vote by the school board during this meeting. The district’s current agreement is set to expire June 30.
In a news release Friday from the Cedar Rapids Community School District in collaboration with the Cedar Rapids Police Department, officials said the contract was created with a focus on continuous improvement and a collaborative effort by both entities to analyze data and define students’ needs.
The district’s renewal discussion for officers in the schools comes after multiple school shooting incidents in Iowa and beyond. The board’s discussion would come on the heels of one of the nation’s deadliest elementary school shootings since the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. The shooting in Uvalde, Texas, resulted in the deaths of 19 students and two teachers.
“As the end of the recent school year brought much joy for the accomplishments achieved in yet another challenging pandemic year, it also brought heartache with the school mass shooting in Texas,” Bush said in the news release. “As with all school districts across the country, safety and the well-being of students are top priorities. CRCSD acknowledges the prevalent need to adhere to all existing security measures and training practices.”
A March 7 shooting outside East High School in Des Moines left one teen dead and two seriously injured. Ten juveniles have been charged in that incident. Des Moines school board members had ended the school resource program the previous school year.
Late last month, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds suggested “hardening” schools by adding resource officers, additional educator training and single entrances into school buildings. She suggested creating digital scans of schools for first responders and a focus on mental health programs. She suggested using federal COVID-19 relief funds for school security programs.
“The Cedar Rapids Police Department has been engaged in ongoing conversations with the Cedar Rapids Community School District with respect to the SRO program,” Police Chief Wayne Jerman said in the news release. “We are looking forward to continuing and enhancing this very important program to keep our children and schools safe.”
The Cedar Rapids proposed school resource officer contract for the 2022-23 academic year and board-requested data will be made available online June 10 at crschools.us/about/board-of-education/meetings-and-agendas.
Cedar Rapids school officials did not answer questions from The Gazette about what questions were asked in the latest survey, how it was distributed, how many people it was sent to and how many people responded.
Since the school resource officer program is partially funded by at-risk and dropout prevention funds, Merschbrock said there should be “clear rationale and demonstrated successful outcomes to justify continued use of these funds” for the program.
There is nothing currently in place to measure the program’s effectiveness in preventing students from dropping out of school, Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker said at an April board meeting.
“In order to approve this program’s funding moving forward, we need clear measures of success for serving this specific need,” Merschbrock said. “There also should be some effort made to quantify the past performance of the (school resource officer) program in improving graduation rates.”
The seven-member school board and Cedar Rapids City Council amended its school resource agreement last fall, but kept several officers inside school buildings.
Under the amended agreement, officers were to not play a role in enforcing school rules or discipline and were to wear “soft” uniforms to be more approachable. It called for parents or guardians to be present if their children are questioned by officers in school.
Full-time school resource officers were removed from middle and elementary schools and can be called for assistance if needed. The school district had 24 requests for school resource officers at middle and elementary schools this year, with most of those being wellness checks in the evening, Kooiker said in April.
The number of students being charged since changes were made to the program has drastically declined. There were 27 students charged during the 2021-22 school year compared with 185 students charged during the 2018-19 school year, according to board documents from April 25.
During the 2021-22 school year, fewer Black students were charged than in previous years and the percentage of Black students charged decreased. Fifty-two percent of students charged were white students, which make up almost 63 percent of the student body, and 48 percent charged were Black students, which make up only about 18 percent of the student body.
During the 2018-19 school year, 42 percent of charges were of white students and 58 percent of charges were of Black students.
From January to April 2022, nine students were arrested from Jefferson High, Kennedy High, Washington High and Metro High schools, one arrested from Wilson Middle School and one arrested from Cedar River Academy at Taylor Elementary School, according to data from the Cedar Rapids Police Department.
The student arrested from Cedar River Academy at Taylor Elementary School was 15, according to police data. The student was arrested on four charges for a first offense in trafficking in stolen weapons, being a minor armed with a dangerous concealed and theft from a motor vehicle of property no more than $300.
One of the more serious arrests was at Washington High, where a 17-year-old student was charged with sexual abuse of a child under 12, according to police data.
Other students arrested at Cedar Rapids schools faced charges of assault with injury without intent, using tobacco or vapor products under the age of 21, possession of marijuana or meth, disorderly conduct and violent behavior and criminal mischief.
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