116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Cedar Rapids school and police officials are having much needed discussions about the role of police officers in schools. Unfortunately, the public is being left out of it.
Cedar Rapids Community School District administrators apparently acted on their own, without the School Board’s direction, to remove police officers from Roosevelt Middle School and McKinley STEAM Academy at the beginning of this school year. They made the change without notifying the public and it’s unclear if board members were informed beforehand.
However you feel about school resource officers, this is the kind of decision that ought to be explained in an open meeting, not in private conversations among administrators.
At recent public meetings, school officials have been considering making changes to their contract with the police department, potentially to include removing officers from the middle schools or splitting two officers’ time between all six middle schools.
District staff bypassed that ongoing democratic process. They said they removed officers from the middle schools to avoid the “trauma” of having to remove them after they had built relationships with students, The Gazette's Grace King reported. If that was necessary, administrators should have sought board approval before the start of the school year.
School district representatives have been reluctant to discuss the matter with journalists. In the course of The Gazette’s reporting, the school system estimated fees exceeding $4,000 for public records relating to the decision-making process about school resource officers.
That aversion to transparency is part of a pattern. School Board members regularly decline to comment on sensitive issues to the media or the public, citing their policy designating the board president to speak on their behalf. Such a policy is unfit for a representative government where each board member is duly elected.
The school district is repeating the mistakes of the past. A decade ago, the decision to put police officers in Cedar Rapids schools in the first place was made without public input and the program has operated since then with little meaningful public oversight.
Indeed, there was never any good reason for Roosevelt and McKinley to be singled out as the only two middle schools with police officers. Those are the two intermediate schools with the most Black kids, not necessarily the ones with the most discipline problems, lending credibility to the criticism that cops in schools disproportionately target students of color.
The School Board is expected to discuss the issue next week, but we feel it's too soon to take a vote on amending the agreement with the police department. First there need to be open deliberations, including an opportunity for the public to respond to presentations made by police and school officials.
By engaging the public throughout the process, even when it’s politically uncomfortable, the school district can avoid similar situations in the future.
(319) 398-8262; firstname.lastname@example.org