116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Although Black students are arrested by school resource officers at higher rates than white students in the Cedar Rapids Community School District, police officers maintained during a presentation Monday the program makes the school and community safer.
The police department presented data to the school board as the future of the program that places officers in seven Cedar Rapids district schools is being weighed.
Less than 3 percent of students were arrested by school resource officers over a four-year period, Police Chief Wayne Jerman said.
Black students, however, are arrested at higher rates than white students even though they make up only 19.1 percent of the student population. Over the four years, 371 Black and 285 white students were arrested by school officers.
“Black students are overrepresented. We understand that,” Lt. Cory McGarvey said.
“If we don’t build relationships with kids, how do we get to the root of their problem? How do they trust us? How do we help them?” McGarvey asked. “We want to be that positive role model, that trusted adult, and provide safety to students and staff as well.”
Last month, newly available data from the Iowa Department of Human Rights showed that Black students in Cedar Rapids schools are far more likely to have allegations of criminal wrongdoing made against them than are white students. The district is considering how the school officers could potentially be used differently, or what other supports schools would need if the officers were removed.
Jerman said the officers build positive relationships with students and work “in tandem” with school administrators.
“Without hesitation, I can tell you our schools are safer and better places for our youth to get a quality education with school resource officers,” Jerman said.
The program was piloted in the Cedar Rapids district in January 2010 at Jefferson High School. A year later, it was expanded to Kennedy and Washington high schools. Today, school resource officers are at Jefferson High, Kennedy High, Washington High, Metro, Polk Alternative and Roosevelt and McKinley middle schools.
All Cedar Rapids police officers receive training in implicit bias, diversity, mental health and de-escalation tactics. School resource officers are required to complete an additional 40 hours of training with the National Association of School Resource Officers.
School board president Nancy Humbles said the impact of the officers on Black and brown students is “concerning.”
“We want all of our students to thrive in our district, but when I see that students who are impacted are Black and brown, that for me is concerning … That’s troubling because if these children are being arrested in school this follows them. You cannot tell me it doesn’t,” Humbles said.
Humbles also questioned why school resource officers are at schools with a larger number of Black students. “What message are we sending out?” Humbles said.
There are school resource officers at two of the district’s six middle schools — McKinley STEAM Academy and Roosevelt Middle School.
Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker said there is not a good reason why officers are at only those two middle schools. “For next year we’ve been having really challenging conversations about if they serve all six? Do they serve none?” Kooiker said.
Kooiker said she grew up in a district with school resource officers. “I, as a white student, felt like they were looking for me to do something wrong,” she said, adding that Cedar Rapids schools can do a better job explaining to students why there are school resource officers.
A recommendation about the program for the 2021-2022 school year will be made to the school board during the next meeting at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 9.
School board member Jennifer Neumann said she hopes the district can make necessary changes to the program.
“When our Black, brown and biracial students feel fear, we’ve got to do something because that impacts their ability to get an education,” Neumann said.
The school resource officer program is being reviewed through six slices of data. “Each one is very important, but one alone doesn’t tell the whole story,” Kooiker said.
The data sources are the Department of Human Rights, the Cedar Rapids Police Department, a survey conducted by the Black Student Union, the Panorama Survey, community survey and feedback sessions.
A community survey about the program received 1,935 responses. About 11 percent of respondents overall and 18 percent of Black respondents believe school resource officers make students feel somewhat or very unsafe.
About 10 percent of respondents overall and 21 percent of Black respondents believe students feel somewhat or very uncomfortable with the officers at school.
Seventy-five percent of respondents felt the officers are needed in schools.
The district held two feedback sessions last month with about 50 participants. Themes included a belief that the officers provide a sense of safety and security, foster relationships with students, staff and families and are loved and appreciated by students, staff and families.
Themes also included a belief that the presence of officers insinuates schools are unsafe and marginalized populations are perceived as the problem; it fosters a school-to-prison pipeline; and Black students are disproportionately affected.
A Panorama Student Survey received 1,813 responses.
The first question was how safe or unsafe students feel having an officer in school. Thirteen percent of students overall felt somewhat or very unsafe; 16 percent of special education students felt somewhat or very unsafe; 20 percent of English Language Learner students felt somewhat or very unsafe; and 24 percent of Black students felt somewhat or very unsafe.
Students were also asked their comfort level around a school resource officer. Seventeen percent overall felt somewhat or very uncomfortable; 18 percent of English Language Learner students felt somewhat or very uncomfortable; and 25 percent of Black students felt somewhat or very uncomfortable.
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