116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the contract for school resource officers -- police -- in schools is for five officers. The contract includes seven officers, including officers at Jefferson, Kennedy, Washington and Metro high schools and Polk Alternative Education Center and two floater officers.
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids school board has delayed voting on an agreement for school resource officers — police in schools — with some board members saying data on the program is incomplete.
In a 6-1 vote, with President David Tominsky opposing, the school board on Monday agreed to meet in a work session to further discuss the school resource officer contract before voting on it at its next meeting on July 11.
“To put this program in a state of uncertainty is a little concerning for me,” Tominsky said.
While the number of high school students charged with crimes decreased 84 percent during the 2021-22 school year, the number of Black students being charged remains disproportionate.
Black students in Cedar Rapids middle schools are almost seven times more likely to be charged with a crime than their white peers, said Barb Hanson, the district’s culture and climate transformation specialist.
Black students in Cedar Rapids high schools are 2.5 times more likely to be charged with a crime than their white peers, a decrease from four times more likely a year ago, Hanson said.
Eighteen percent of the Cedar Rapids student body is Black.
Superintendent Noreen Bush said there is a “sense of urgency” to vote on the school resource officer contract and prepare for the 2022-23 school year.
“I think the entities that worked closest with this information felt confident in the recommendation coming forward tonight,” Bush told the board. “This is the reason we have the board is to ask the critical questions.”
A survey about the program sent to high school students, staff and families received 527 responses, an 11 percent response rate. Respondents included 11 percent of high school students, 27 percent of high school staff and 3 percent of families.
None of the staff at Jefferson High School responded to the survey. Justin Blietz, the district’s secondary director of culture and climate transformation, said he did not know why.
Blietz said the initial survey sent to students erred in not including questions about school resource officers. Questions about school resource officers then were sent to high school students, who were given time to complete the survey the last week of school. Seniors already had graduated at that time, Blietz said.
School board member Cindy Garlock said the data presented to the board Monday night “paints a very incomplete picture.”
“I don’t feel like I have sufficient data right now locally to make a really informed, sound decision,” Garlock said, citing the low response rates on the district’s survey about school resource officers.
“I have experienced what it’s like to be in the building” with a school resource officer, said school board member Marcy Roundtree, who was a community engagement advocate at Washington High School before being elected to the school board in 2021. “It is a very important piece to the safety of our students and staff.”
Roundtree advocated for more resources in the community and “people who look like the students … that look like me” to intervene in neighborhood disputes before they get to the schools, she said.
Board member Jennifer Neumann said she supports keeping the proposed contract as it is.
“We’re just not living in a world right now where it’s a good time to back off from that,” she said.
Police in middle schools?
Less than two hours before the school board meeting Monday, Cedar Rapids Police Department officials emailed school board members advocating for school resource officers to be added at McKinley STEAM Academy and Wilson Middle School.
The letter, signed by Deputy Chief Thomas Jonker and Lt. Cory McGarvey, said data indicates a higher level of incidents at those schools.
“We envision the officers would start most days at these schools, then move to address other needs at all middle schools,” according to the email obtained by The Gazette. “A (school resource officer) would visit each middle school nearly every day.”
According to the data, McKinley had 16 incidents, Wilson had 14, Franklin Middle School had eight, Harding had seven and Taft and Roosevelt had four each.
“We feel like our data doesn’t show a need” for a floater school resource officer, Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker said Monday night.
During the 2021-22 academic year, school resource officers were called to 33 incidents at Cedar Rapids elementary and middle schools.
Full-time school resource officers were removed from McKinley and Roosevelt before the 2021-22 school year, and full-time school resource officers were not placed at any other Cedar Rapids middle school.
In June 2021, Kooiker said there was no specific reason officers initially were added to district schools, and there is “no good answer” about why they were later added to only two of the middle schools.
Last year, the district and the Cedar Rapids police set joint goals of reducing by 50 percent or more the number of student arrests and charges filed and of reducing the disproportionate arrests of Black students by 50 percent or more.
Concerns about the school resource officer program were brought to district officials in fall 2020 by students at Kennedy High School. Since then, students, such as Wilsee Kollie, who spoke during the school board meeting Monday, have continued to advocate for the removal of the school officers.
Kollie, who graduated from Kennedy High in May, said removing officers from middle schools is “progress.”
Tamara Marcus, a social justice and climate action advocate and graduate of Kennedy High, asked the school board to “take the time to get good data to make a good decision.”
“I don’t think this is a reflection on anyone in particular,” Marcus said. “It’s an honest mistake. Students will be returning to the district in the fall — a great opportunity to survey the students again and get good data to make a decision.”
The new contract before the board, which would run until June 30, 2023, proposes having five officers in school buildings — Jefferson, Kennedy, Washington and Metro high schools and Polk Alternative Education Center -- and two officers as floaters to serve K-12 buildings as needed.
If floater school resource officers are retained, they could be based at the police department instead of in school buildings and their title changed to “responders,” according to board documents.
School officers would be required to wear “soft” uniforms — a polo shirt with the police logo and khaki pants — and still would be armed.
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