116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids middle schools will have no school-designated, full-time police officers if a revised 28E Agreement between the school district and city of Cedar Rapids is approved later this month.
Removing full-time school resource officers — police — from middle schools is just one of 14 recommendations that will be voted on by the Cedar Rapids school board Sept. 27.
Proposed changes come as the district and Cedar Rapids Police Department set joint goals of reducing arrests and charges filed of all students by 50 percent or more, and of bringing a 50 percent or greater reduction in the disproportionality of arrests of Black students.
In her five years working for the Cedar Rapids Community School District, Superintendent Noreen Bush said she can’t think of any other topic that the school board “has dedicated more time around” other than possibly the facility master plan.
What are some of the recommendations?
Fourteen changes to the program were proposed last month, including: removing school resource officers from McKinley and Roosevelt middle schools; having officers wear a “soft uniform” to be more approachable and less intimidating; having officers seek diversion options for first offenses where possible. In addition, it was suggested 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 requested for safety.
School resource officers already were removed from McKinley and Roosevelt before the first day of school Aug. 23. There were no school resource officers at any other of the middle schools.
Last month, Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker said the district is considering using the two officers previously at McKinley and Roosevelt in different ways, such has having them rotate through every middle school or even extend it to K-8.
What are the next steps for the agreement?
The recommendations are being worked into the current 28E Agreement by district officials and the Cedar Rapids Police Department. It will require a majority vote by the school board to pass. If it does not pass, the contract will remain as is for the remainder of the school year.
The amended agreement also must be approved by the Cedar Rapids City Council before it can be adopted by both entities.
If the school board approves the amendments but the City Council does not, Bush said the district either can reevaluate the amendments or the agreement may be terminated by either the district or City Council.
The 28E Agreement can be terminated by either party after 30 days’ written notice. The multiyear agreement expires next summer.
The school resource officer program costs the Cedar Rapids Community School District and the city just over $950,000 a year for seven officers. That is about $134,000 per school resource officer.
Students express concerns about being ‘policed’
Over the past several months, students have expressed concerns that having police officers in school hallways feels like being patrolled, school board member Dexter Merschbrock said.
“Their presence in the building is really a weight on the shoulder of our students,” he said, suggesting that school resource officers operate on school campuses but not in school buildings unless a “situation arises” where they are needed.
School board to receive monthly data on arrests
The school board will begin to receive monthly data on the number of arrests and other contact school resource officers have with students.
The sooner the board members receive the monthly data, the better they can evaluate if the proposed changes to the school resource officer program are working or not if they are adopted, said Nancy Humbles, school board president.
“Sometimes what happens is it’s delayed, and we’re clueless to what is going on. The information is going to be so important to us as a board,” Humbles said.
Arrest rates among Black students raise concerns
The resource officer program was piloted in January 2010 at Jefferson High School, and expanded to Washington and Kennedy high schools the following year. Before this school year, officers had operated at Jefferson, Kennedy, Washington and Metro high schools, the Polk Alternative Education Center and the middle schools.
Evaluation of the school resource officer program began this past spring. Newly available data from the Iowa Department of Human Rights 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.
Less than 3 percent of all students were arrested by school resource officers over a four-year period. Black students, however, are arrested at higher rates than white students, although they make up only 19.1 percent of the student population.
Danny Levy, 17, a senior at Washington High, who also spoke out against school resource officers at the school board meeting in August, said children should not be policed.
“It’s terrifying,” she said. “There’s no reason to have to sit in psychology classes and realize there’s a police officer fully armed outside the door. I can’t focus. I can’t think straight. I can’t tell you the question because when I think about life and death, I don’t think about school.”
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