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Iowa City Schools, Iowa Freedom Riders talk changes to campus policing

Published: Jul. 1, 2020 at 11:59 PM CDT
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - During a virtual meeting Wednesday, the Iowa City Community School District board and members of the Iowa Freedom Riders continued their conversation over potential changes to the district to promote inclusion and equity.

The Iowa Freedom Riders, the group organizing recent protests in Iowa City, have put forth seven demands for the school district. But one that generated much discussion Wednesday is a demand to remove school resource officers, or SROs, from all Iowa City public schools.

While, technically, Iowa City schools don’t have school resource officers — the school board voted in the past to not fund them — there are still some situations in which law enforcement officers are on campus. That’s what the Iowa Freedom Riders say needs to change. The group is asking the current school board to implement a policy that would make it much more difficult for future boards to fund SROs.

But Interim Superintendent Matt Degner said future boards could get around that limitation by voting to undo the policy.

The Freedom Riders also demanded Iowa City Schools completely cut ties with the Iowa City Police Department and prohibit police from being called to schools under any circumstance. However, Jeremy Tabor, the district’s director of equity and employee relations, said that prohibition wouldn’t be possible because of school requirements mandated by OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“If there’s the potential or a current situation that is imperative, that it’s going to cause harm to a student or a member of the staff, then they are required to contact law enforcement for them to be able to come on-site to try to deal with that potential threat to the health and safety of anyone in the building,” Tabor said.

Ruthina Malone, vice president of the school board, suggested schools train staff on when police need to be called and when the school can use other community resources to solve problems. The Freedom Riders have called for the district to allocate more funding for school counselors and therapists.

“It was my understanding when I had the conversation with the Freedom Riders, is that’s what we want to avoid — those instances where other resources are needed and not resources of starting our kids off with a police record because things can always go left when we bring in the police when a child is in other types of distress,” Malone said.

The Iowa Freedom Riders also inquired after previous records of when police have been called to schools as part of a comprehensive review into requests for police on campus.

“We don’t think they need to be there, and most of the time, there’s a lot of people who are deeply uncomfortable or feel unsafe when they are there,” Keki, an Iowa City community member and a member of the Iowa Freedom Riders, said.

Among their other demands to the school district, the Iowa Freedom Riders are calling for an alternative school review board process for students sent to alternative schools; more diversity on the school board; the creation of an anti-racist curriculum; a rewrite of discipline protocol so it doesn’t target students of color; the district to provide more support to recruit and retain a more diverse staff; and the empowerment of a committee to hear complaints of racial bias.

As Wednesday’s meeting was a work session, the school board could not vote to take action on any of the demands. The board said it’ll need more discussion and feedback before it votes on potential changes.

Copyright 2020 KCRG. All rights reserved.

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