116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The number of Black students and white students suspended from the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s high schools during the 2021-22 academic year is virtually the same, despite Black students making up only 18 percent of the district’s population.
The data on suspensions was released Friday as the district continues to look at school safety while reviewing disparities in how students are disciplined for allegations of crimes and rules violations. The suspension data is part of a presentation Monday to the school board as members vote on a new contract to keep school resource officers — police — in schools.
The seven-member school board and Cedar Rapids City Council last fall amended its school resource officer agreement with the goal of reducing the overall number of students being charged and also the disproportion of being charged. Iowa Department of Human Rights data last year showed that Black students in Cedar Rapids schools were six times more likely to have allegations of criminal wrongdoing made against them than white students.
While the number of students charged has drastically decreased this year, the number of students suspended has remained steady.
The district broke down suspension into categories of Black or African American, white, Hispanic or Latino and two or more races. The number of students suspended during the 2019-20 academic year is fewer because school ended early that year to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. That number also is fewer during 2020-21 because repairing buildings after the 2020 derecho caused a delay in starting classes.
The suspension data and a new contract for school resource officers will be presented during a board meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Educational Leadership and Support Center, 2500 Edgewood Rd NW.
Suspension data for grades 9-12 in the high schools shows:
- There were 15 in-school suspensions and 481 out-of-school suspensions during the 2021-22 school year. Of the 496 total, 192 incidents involved Black or African American students and 194 incidents involved white students.
- The number of suspensions during the 2018-19 school year was 1,041, with 418 of those being Black or African American students and 467 being white students.
In grades K-5:
- There were 148 in-school suspensions and 255 out-of-school suspension during the 2021-22 school year. Of the 403 total, 141 were for Black or African American students and 109 were for white students.
- The number of suspensions during the 2018-19 school year was 566, with 202 of those being suspensions of Black or African American students and 226 being white students.
In grades 6-8 in Cedar Rapids’ middle schools:
- There were 300 in-school suspensions and 975 out-of-school suspensions during the 2021-22 school year. Of the 1,275 total, 440 incidents were for Black or African American students and 527 incidents were for white students.
- The number suspensions during the 2018-19 school year was 1,610, with 619 of those for Black or African American students and 602 for white students.
Changes to contract
The district’s discussion for renewing a deal keeping officers in the schools comes after multiple school shootings in Iowa and beyond — including in Uvalde, Texas, the nation’s deadliest elementary school shootings since the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
The Cedar Rapids district removed officers from McKinley and Roosevelt middle schools in the 2021-22 amended contract. The officers were instead assigned as “floaters” and responded to calls for service from K-8 school buildings.
The new contract proposal considers removing two floater officers and having five officers serve the high school buildings, including Polk Alternative Education Center, 1500 B Ave NE.
If the floater school resource officers were to remain, though, they could be placed at the Cedar Rapids Police Department instead of in the school buildings, and their title changed to “responders,” according to board documents.
During the 2021-22 academic year, school resource officers were called for 33 incidents at Cedar Rapids K-8 schools:
- Nine calls were wellness checks
- Six were a threat of some sort concerning statements
- Three were for traffic flow
- Three were drug-related
- Two were over social media posts
- Six involved adults outside of school buildings
- One was for a potential fight
- And other calls include students walking on cars, a high school student walking in the halls with their sibling in middle school and a hole in a window.
If the proposal is approved, school resource officers would be placed at Jefferson, Kennedy, Washington and Metro high schools and Polk Alternative Education Center, according to the contract.
The contract proposes officers be required to wear “soft” uniforms when on duty as a school resource officer, which includes a polo shirt with the police logo and khaki pants. While this was a part of the amended contract, it was not strictly followed.
If approved, the contract would run from July 1 to June 30, 2023.
Fewer students charged
The number of students charged with crimes decreased during the 2021-22 school year compared with 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Fewer than 50 students were charged during the 2021-22 school year, compared with 225 during 2018-19, according to board documents. White students and Black students were charged about equally, but Black students make up a much smaller share of the student body.
About 13 middle school students were charged during the 2021-22 school year — nine Black students and four white students. This is a decrease from about 25 students during 2018-19.
The district uses dropout prevention and at-risk dollars to fund the school resource officer program. The cost per officer is $139,279 annually, which the district pays half of — $69,639 — per officer. The total cost is $487,476 for seven officers.
Students, families, staff surveyed
A survey about the program was sent to high school students, staff at Kennedy, Washington and Metro high schools, and all high school families at the end of the 2021-22 school year. Respondents include 11 percent of high school students, 27 percent of high school staff and 3 percent of families.
A similar survey was sent out in spring 2021, and received a 39 percent response rate, or 1,854 responses. The most recent survey received an 11 percent response rate with 527 people.
Almost half of students responded that they feel very safe having a school resource officer in their school, an increase from 30 percent in 2021. Forty-one percent responded they feel somewhat safe, 7 percent feel somewhat unsafe and 4 percent feel unsafe having an officer in their school, an increase from 2 percent.
The majority of students responded they feel very comfortable or somewhat comfortable with their school resource officer, 8 percent said they feel somewhat uncomfortable and 4 percent said they feel very uncomfortable.
The majority of students responded they had a very positive or somewhat positive experience with their school resource officer, 4 percent of students said they have had a somewhat negative experience and 1 percent said it has been very negative.
Over 90 percent of students agree or strongly agree that their officer is a positive role model in their school. Nine percent said they disagree or strongly disagree with that statement.
Over 90 percent of staff and families who responded said school resource officers make students feel more safe and are needed.
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