116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Most emails to Cedar Rapids school board members about school resource officers have gone unanswered over the last few months as the board prepares to vote on a revised agreement between the district and the Cedar Rapids Police Department for police in schools.
The board is relying on a long-standing practice of having the board president serve as a spokesperson for the consensus of the board, discouraging the other six elected members from addressing the public.
"The board president will set the tone of the board meetings, and as the representative of the consensus of the board, speak on behalf of the board to the public,“ states school board procedure 202.2c. Before school board meetings, the president consults with the superintendent and board secretary.
Randy Evans, executive director for the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said he understands the school board’s desire to have one person serving as the spokesperson for all seven.
“But voters deserve to have their questions answered by their board members and to hear their board members articulate the reasons they support or oppose a proposal,” Evans said in an email.
Multiple board members declined to comment when contacted by The Gazette, instead referring questions to the board president and the district’s spokeswoman.
“Any attempt to silence or sanction a board member who speaks out should be roundly rejected by residents of the district,” Evans said. “The absence of responses from board members and the lack of discussion at board meetings could lead to the conclusion that decisions are being made before the board’s meetings.”
School districts are governed by the entire board, Evans said. “A policy like this one leaves the public to think there are attempts ongoing to gag some members of the board,” he said.
The Gazette has been asked multiple times to turn to a staff member, district communications director Colleen Scholer, when asking questions of an elected school board member.
On Aug. 30, a reporter sent a request for comments from board President Nancy Humbles to Scholer. In an email later that day reviewed by The Gazette, Scholer asked Superintendent Noreen Bush to pass the newspaper’s questions on to Humbles.
"And, Noreen, will you send the related board questions to Nancy Humbles? Please let me know her response,“ Scholer emailed Bush at 10:05 p.m. Aug. 30.
The Gazette made an open records requests to the district asking for communication to and from Bush, Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker and climate and culture transformation Director Justin Blietz related to the school resource officers issue between July 1 and Aug. 31.
A second open records request for the same time period asked for all communications received by and responses made by members of the Cedar Rapids school board related to school resource officers.
The school officer program, which data from the state shows has disproportionately led to arrests of Black students, has come under wide scrutiny and attracted dozens of speakers at board meetings.
In hundreds of emails reviewed by The Gazette, only a few board members including Jennifer Borcherding and Scot Reisinger emailed questions about the school resource officer program to district officials.
Little discussion has taken place publicly at the board table to give direction to the district staff on how to proceed with changes to the school resource officer program. The district has been reviewing the program that places police officers at seven Cedar Rapids schools since June.
A school board agenda released Friday includes an item on an amended agreement for the program. But the text of the agreement is not being publicly released until Monday afternoon. The board meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Educational Leadership and Support Center, 2500 Edgewood Road NW.
Proposals made previously include removing full-time officers from middle schools; having officers wear a “soft uniform” to be more approachable; and steering officers seek diversion options for first offenses where possible. In addition, proposals suggest that schools not involve officers in enforcing school rules or discipline, and that officers not listen to the questioning of students by school officials unless asked for safety.
Kevin Wymore, a Cedar Rapids resident, filed his own public records request from the district to get more information about how the district is making decisions about the future of the school resource officer program.
Wymore, a 1976 graduate of Kennedy High School, said the district first asked him to pay $414 for the public records. He ended up paying $10.
In his own inquiries, Wymore said, board President Humbles “has been hard to get information from.” Other board members did not answer his questions.
“No one has spoken to me,” he said.
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