Education

Iowa City school board candidates on police in schools

Most reluctant to place officers with students, though some see benefits

Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter addresses the Iowa City school board in April about her opposition to add school resource officers in the district’s schools. The proposal was tabled. (Molly Duffy/The Gazette)
Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter addresses the Iowa City school board in April about her opposition to add school resource officers in the district’s schools. The proposal was tabled. (Molly Duffy/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Seven candidates are seeking four seats on the Iowa City school board in Tuesday’s election.

All terms on the board are for four years and at-large — meaning everyone can vote on all the candidates.

Two incumbents are on the ballot — Paul Roesler and Shawn Eyestone — as are five others: Charlie Eastham, Michael Tilley, Julie VanDyke, Lisa Williams and Stephanie Van Housen.

A Gazette questionnaire asked each candidate for their views on four issues:

POLICE IN SCHOOLS: When is it appropriate for police officers to interact with Iowa City students at school? Responses from each candidate are below and have been edited for length.

To read responses on the other three issues, click through:

NEW SUPERINTENDENT: What are you looking for in a new district leader after Stephen Murley leaves in June 2021?

MOST IN NEED: How will you increase support for underserved students?

BOARD TURNOVER: How will you bring stability to the school board?

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Candidates are presented in the order they appear on the ballot.

Police in schools

Charlie Eastham: I support developing school safety policies and practices that are inclusive, evidence-based and widely supported by all students, parents and staff. Assignment of sworn law enforcement officers to district buildings does not meet these criteria. The reaction that I am witnessing from black and Latinx and special education communities is one of strong opposition to any school safety measure that would place sworn officers in any school building, including the Educational Service Center. I believe the district is obligated to respect the viewpoints of these communities and stop pursuing such proposals.

Michael Tilley: The district should not have an armed police officer stationed on school grounds. Board decisions should be based on the best available data. There are two metareviews that have looked at all studies on school resource officers over a substantial period of time. The metareviews evaluated the rigor, results and reproducibility of the various studies, and they concluded, based on their study, that there is no evidence that armed officers stationed on school grounds increase safety, feelings of safety or improve school climate.

Nevertheless, the district does need a clear standard for when police should be called so that the decision is not primarily at the discretion of the building administration. Our building administrators have expressed concern that they feel like they are not well supported with resources or a well-established protocol for how to handle crises. That protocol, which still needs to be developed, would identify when it is appropriate for police to be called for a crisis, and it would require the district to cultivate a good working relationship with police across all our municipalities as well as the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department.

Stephanie Van Housen: I don’t think there are any reasons a student should interact with a police officer in today’s climate of blue on black/brown violence, especially without a parent or caregiver present. I oppose school resource officers and threat assessment teams as currently proposed. I believe a process to determine a need for a threat assessment team can be followed, and the first step of the process is to complete a needs assessment. We have forgotten this part of the process. Why are we rushing the process?

Julie VanDyke: None of the current board members or candidates have publicly come out in favor of school resource officers (SRO). The district already has armed officers in schools for various reasons, including sports and school activities. The crucial difference between a SRO and a police officer is that the SRO is an employee of BOTH school district and police department. Because SROs are school employees, it gives them and the police department they work for complete access to all protected student records to which a police department would otherwise not have access.

We cannot take the chance that the school-to-prison pipeline is greased with otherwise protected HIPAA, FERPA, IDEA and civil rights protected information (being) exchanged between district administration and police.

Trust is a seriously damaged issue in the Iowa City Community School District. SROs, for which there is nothing but anecdotal evidence supporting any positive affect on school climate, are not going to rebuild trust in a district when their existence threatens to target, endanger and adversely affect children of color and special needs children at a higher rate than other students.

Lisa Williams: I believe there are a number of circumstances when it is appropriate for students to interact with police officers at school. In fact, police officers are currently interacting with students at school on a regular basis. For example, a police officer is often stationed at the door during high school dances. Police officers also are called to school when there is a real and immediate threat to students, staff or public safety.

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Often the officer responding to these types of calls is the closest one on patrol. Consequently, that officer may not have an existing relationship with the students involved, implicit bias training or training on juvenile-related issues. As a result, the officer could be more inclined to bring criminal charges rather than handling the situation through school disciplinary procedures alone.

Finally, it is appropriate for police officers to interact with students outside of the investigatory context under proper school supervision. Police should speak to students about their jobs and offer job shadowing opportunities. We need to get more students of color interested in careers in the law and law enforcement so that we can continue building a more diverse and representative system of justice.

We can build a wall of separation between police and schools, but this approach is unlikely to ameliorate the deeply rooted issues around race and policing we desperately need to solve. Ideally, we need as many members of our community as possible seeing police officers as people they can trust in a time of need. We need to ensure these officers are fair and just, understand the boundaries of their authority, are good role models, are representative of the diversity of our community and live up to the oath they swore to uphold.

Paul Roesler: Police are already interacting with our secondary school students frequently. Unfortunately, not all of the police are trained on how to deal with children. When a call is made to the police department, any officer on-call can respond to that call. It is, in my opinion, important to have the same officer, or the same trained officers, respond to school-related calls. I do believe that the schools can work with law enforcement as well as other members of the community to begin to build positive relationships with students. I don’t feel it is necessary to have officers stationed in the schools in order to do that.

It is important to ask the students, teachers, staff, counselors and administrators who are in our building daily what is needed to improve safety and security. The safety and security of our students is of the utmost importance and is critical to maintaining a productive and healthy learning environment. With that in mind, the potential for disproportionality, as it relates to discipline, is very real and must not be allowed to occur. All students deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Inherent bias must be recognized and addressed.

Shawn Eyestone: There are multiple times when it would be appropriate for students to interact with officers. In my opinion, those times are separate, specific short-term events as opposed to a full-time constant presence. Emergency situations, presentations, trainings and other times when the expectations of the situation are more clearly defined are more appropriate.

There is a comfort level in knowing why the police presence is there and what is expected in the moment, from both them and the students. When there is a constant presence, there is an unknown. An unknown of how students should act, an unknown of what an officer might do and an unknown of who or what will draw the attention of an officer. This unease affects students differently, based on both their general personality and their life experiences.

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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