116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A short video created by the Cedar Rapids Community School District is meant to educate students on their rights and what they should and shouldn’t do when interacting with a police officer.
The video is part of changes being implemented to the district’s school resource officer program after several students last year asked for the police presence to be removed from schools.
There are no longer any school resource officers permanently assigned to any Cedar Rapids middle schools. Officers are at Jefferson, Kennedy, Washington and Metro high schools and two officers serve elementary and middle schools as needed.
The video was presented Monday night during a Cedar Rapids school board meeting and will be shared with students before the end of the school year. The script was drafted with the help of many lawyers, including Jenny Schultz, attorney and executive director of Kids First Law. Kids First Law Center gives children a voice in divorce, custody and other disputes by providing them with legal representation and services.
“If we’re going to have school resource officers in our buildings, students need to know their rights,” Cedar Rapids Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker said.
In a two-and-a-half-minute video, students share seven things to remember when interacting with a police officer:
- If the police talk to you, you don’t have to answer any questions.
- If the police stop you, stay calm, don’t run away or argue and ask if you are free to go. If they say yes, slowly walk away.
- Police can ask misleading questions or make false statements while questioning you.
- You have less of a right to privacy at school than at home.
- You can refuse to be searched. The police cannot search your phone, personal property or your person without a warrant.
- Don’t say anything, sign anything or decide anything without first talking to a lawyer or your parents.
- Ask to speak to your parent and a lawyer and tell the police if you wish to stay silent.
Wilsee Kollie, 18, a senior at Kennedy High School who was in the video, said the information could “save lives.”
“It’s kind of scary when you get approached by authority,” she said.
Changes made to the school resource officer program this year are “a great start,” Kollie said, but the majority of students being arrested are still Black, Kollie said. “I’m frustrated. School resource officers don’t belong in schools,” Kollie said.
Angelina Madlock, 18, a senior at Kennedy High who was also in the video, said she learned a lot by being a part of it. She also believes school resource officers need more training in how to interact with historically marginalized students, Madlock said.
“What the police were and were not able to do was new to me,” Madlock said. “We aren’t taught how to interact with (school resource officers). It’s good to know so you’re not self-incriminating or letting the police have more power over you.”
Fewer students being charged
In fall 2021, the district set goals of reducing charges filed of all students by 50 percent or greater and a 50 percent or greater reduction of the disproportional charges for Black students by the end of the 2021-22 school year.
While more Black students are still being charged than white students, the district is continuing to see an overall decline in charges. During the 2018-2019 school year, there were 185 charges. For the same period during the 2021-22 school year — the current school year — there have been only 27 charges.
Black students are 3.36 times more likely to be charged than white students. Historically, Black students were 4.06 times more likely to be charged than white students across the 2017-18 to 2020-21 school years, using data provided by the Cedar Rapids Police Department.
“We still have work to do on disproportionate arrests,” Kooiker said. “The goal is zero charges for all students.”
Comparing data from August 2018 to March 2019 to data from August 2021 to March 2022, there has been an 87.9 percent reduction in charges for Black students and an 82.1 percent reduction in charges for white students. This is overall an 85.4 percent reduction in charges.
Black students make up 17.8 percent of the district’s student population.
One of the changes made to the school resource officer program is expanding the number of charges that can qualify for diversion from arrest. In late 2020, 11 charges such as possession of tobacco as a minor, possession of alcohol as a minor and minor theft were added to the diversion program. Diversion measures include preventive conversations and investigations, safety plans, restorative conversations and parent meetings.
Jefferson High School Principal Mike Hawley said the school has diverted 18 students from arrest between August 2021 and March. Only one student did not complete the diversion requirements and was charged, Hawley said.
New contract to be considered
A new contract between the district and police department for school resource officers will be voted on by the school board June 13. A few contract changes were proposed for the 2022-23 school year, including more clarity about the “soft uniforms” the officers wear at schools and a survey of parents, students and staff.
“We haven’t decided on the continuation of our contract,” school board member Nancy Humbles said.
Next step: Reducing suspensions
After spending more than a year on making changes to the officer program, Kooiker said, the next step is to tackle suspensions. The number of students being suspended is disproportionate, with more Black students being suspended than white students.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Kooiker said. “We are suspending at a high rate.”
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