By Grace King
Source The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA—Police officers in Cedar Rapids schools will not be involved in enforcing school rules or discipline, will wear "soft" uniforms to appear more approachable and must allow parents or guardians to be present if their children are questioned by officers in school, according to changes to the program approved Monday night by the Cedar Rapids school board.
Also under the amended agreement, full-time officers have been removed permanently from McKinley and Roosevelt middle schools. Anticipating the change, the district removed them before the first day of school Aug. 23.
Those two officers will now be available to all Cedar Rapids elementary and middle schools as an on-call resource and to provide instruction on "run, hide and fight" — training in the event of an active shooter on campus — and lessons on civic engagement, according to the amended agreement.
Full-time school resource officers will remain at Kennedy, Jefferson, Washington and Metro high schools and Polk Alternative. The resource officer program was piloted in January 2010 at Jefferson High School, and then expanded to Washington and Kennedy the following year.
The seven-member school board unanimously approved the revisions to an agreement between the Cedar Rapids Community School District and the city of Cedar Rapids and its police department.
The agreement, which expires June 30, 2022, also will need to be approved by the Cedar Rapids City Council to go into effect. It has not yet been added to an upcoming meeting agenda.
Board member Dexter Merschbrock said the amended agreement is a "good first step" but said the board needs to be intentional about reviewing data about the program monthly, which will be provided as a part of the contract.
School resource officers, in collaboration with the district, will collect data on all referrals to law enforcement, including police calls, criminal charges and arrests in school-related incidents. This data will be compiled in a statistical report format and provided to the district monthly.
"I think we should treat this as a crisis moment for students in our schools," Merschbrock said. "We have data of disparate arrests and students who are feeling unsafe ... we need to review the data and be ready to act if necessary. If something needs to be changed, I don't think we should be hesitant to do that.
"We have to be willing to act, and if it comes to canceling the contract with the city, we should do that," he added.
While the school board agenda was released Friday to the public, the wording of the proposed revised agreement was not provided until Monday, hours before the school board meeting. The district has been considering changes to the agreement for months.
"I think going forward with issues where we have so much public concern, we should publish a contract like that at the time we publish the agenda," Merschbrock said.
Added to the agreement are three goals of the program:
- Create an environment where all students feel safe and supported.
- Instill in all students and staff a sense of belonging.
- Educate and teach students about appropriate behaviors and responses through a restorative and trauma-informed lens.
The district will do a "temperature check" with administrators and school resource officers on how implementation of the changes is going over the next few months and if goals of the program are being met, Superintendent Noreen Bush said.
Students advocate for change
Discussion about school resource officers began in earnest last year when twin sisters Raafa and Rahma Elsheikh, who graduated in May, demanded police be removed from schools.
School board member Jennifer Borcherding said she is "so proud" of the students who advocated for a change to the program.
The changes come as the district and Cedar Rapids Police Department set joint goals of reducing arrests and charges filed against all students by 50 percent or more, and of bringing a 50 percent or greater reduction in the disproportionality of arrests of Black students.
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, were arrested at higher rates than white students. Black students make up 19.1 percent of the student population.
Closer look at the changes
The changes made to the agreement were recommendations presented by the school district staff to the board in August. Other changes include:
- School resource officers would assist with instruction of "run, hide and fight" and deliver professional learning to staff on topics such as vaping, cyberbullying and community support for students to staff members at all 32 schools.
- The district and resource officers would collaboratively work on issues regarding restorative practices, intercultural development inventory and continuum, de-escalation training and trauma-informed care
- Parents or guardians would be given the opportunity to be present if their child is questioned by a school resource officer;
- Officers in the schools would wear "soft" uniform to be more approachable and less intimidating;
- Officers would seeking diversion options for first offenses, instead of seeking criminal charges, where possible;
- Schools would involving officers in enforcing school rules or discipline;
- And officers would not listen in on the questioning of students by school officials unless requested to for safety.
Students relationship with police is valuable, said board member Cindy Garlock.
"I am glad to see the support services are going to be available to our students to foster healthy relationships with adults," she said. "In my estimation, if you have an adult in your life, whether it's a school resource officer, therapist, school counselor or lunch lady, whomever it is that believes in you and supports you, that's what our kids need."
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