116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Cedar Rapids School Board is expected to vote next week on changes to its school resource officer program.
Superintendent Noreen Bush says the board has dedicated more time to this issue than any other in recent years, with the exception of decisions on building closures and openings.
Bush may be right about the hours spent, but board members have offered little meaningful input about what the role of police officers in schools should be. When administrators pulled police out of middle schools at the beginning of the school year, they did so without explicit direction from elected school board members.
To address disparities in school-based policing, administrators are recommending 14 changes to the agreement between the city and the district. This editorial board is split on the question of removing officers from middle schools, but there are several other proposed changes that we firmly support.
Under the recommendations, police in schools would wear “soft” uniforms instead of standard uniforms. Educators would not involve officers in enforcing school rules and there would be a diversion program for first offenses. Parents would be given the right to be present if their child is being questioned by police. Officers would not arrest or serve warrants against students or parents on school grounds.
We see those as positive developments. Educators and police need to find a way to share information in real time and prevent disputes outside school from impacting the learning environment.
If changes to the contract are approved, the following months will be a test for the new arrangement. The school district and the police department will have to show they can effectively and transparently work together.
Troubling figures released this year showed Black students made up more than 60 percent of criminal complaints in Cedar Rapids schools over a five-year period, but represented about 20 percent of the student population. Eliminating that disparity and reducing charges altogether ought to be the goals.
Officials need to regularly publish detailed figures about police work inside our public schools, which they say they plan to do. And leaders need to be held accountable for the school resource officer program’s performance and any persisting inequities — in open session where the public has a chance to respond.
The school resource officer program is just one way Cedar Rapids police are working to intervene in youth violence. We have high hopes for the ReSET program, which grew out of the Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Task Force initiated in 2016. Organizers — both police and service providers — are working to connect people at risk of being victims or perpetrators of gun violence to community resources.
Stopping the intergroup violence that has seeped into local schools will require a communitywide approach. Law enforcement must be only one piece of the tool kit.
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