116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Deliberations over the future of school resource officers in Cedar Rapids public schools are progressing in a narrow narrative. SROs have been working in high schools, but how do they operate at the middle schools? Although the majority view appears to be that SROs help make schools safer, what about students of color who feel much differently?
On Monday, the Cedar Rapids School Board wisely voted 6-1 to delay action on finalizing a new one-year contract with the Cedar Rapids Police Department. On Tuesday, the City Council endorsed a new contract, including SROs operating in middle schools, after a discussion largely about school security.
School Board members said they need more data on SRO performance, particularly with regard to the disproportionate number of Black students arrested by officers. The district favors an on-call model for middle schools, rather than having them float between buildings daily.
Yes, we need more data. And the data that’s needed must dig far deeper into SRO issues than a survey with a low response rate. It’s one thing, for instance, to have suspension numbers, arrest numbers and a number of students on a mental health care waiting list, but how do those numbers overlap? What is the full picture?
What we also need is a much more comprehensive community conversation. This should be more than a discussion centered on SROs, or no SROS or some SROs. We should also be talking about what else is being done in schools to address safety, behavioral problems, mental health needs and other issues. And what else needs to be done?
SROs should be simply one piece of a much broader effort to make schools safe learning spaces for all students. Cedar Rapids schools could be a statewide leader in this effort, instead of simply approving a contract and moving on.
In the Cedar Rapids district alone, school-based therapists are at capacity, but three-year trend data shows both a growing number of students receiving and being referred for services. The gap is widening. A reported 885 Cedar Rapids students received services from a school-based therapist last school year, while more than 520 were referred but waiting, declining or receiving services outside the school-based system.
At the state level, Medicaid claims show 131,651 children ages 17 and under received mental, behavior or substance abuse services in FY20. The state numbers don't include data for children covered by private insurance.
This week's local votes on SROs came within hours of an announcement by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds of $100 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds being earmarked to school safety. The funds are focused on vulnerability assessments on schools, active shooter training, and to create ways to report and monitor threats of violence. The state plan fails to allocate funds toward mental health services for children.
This is a chance to finally have the discussion around these issues that’s long been needed, and reaches beyond the need for SROs. As a community, let’s dig deeper.
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