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Cedar Rapids Schools contemplating future role of school resource officers

Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 10:54 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Before the next school year starts in the fall, the Cedar Rapids Community School District said it will have a different answer to the question of to what extent police officers should be present in schools.

School resource officers currently work at seven schools in the district — Jefferson High School, Kennedy High School, Metro High School, Washington High School, McKinley Middle School, Roosevelt Middle School, and Polk Alternative Education Center — and are also officers with the Cedar Rapids Police Department. These officers complete additional, specific training geared toward their roles in schools.

Data from the Iowa Department of Human Rights from the 2019-2020 school year shows Black students in Cedar Rapids schools are more than six times likelier to have a complaint, which is a school-related incident that leads to juvenile court, than their White classmates.

In that same school year, Black students made up about 20% of the district population but comprised about 70% of the complaints. That number is an increase of about 50% over the last five school years. But the district said data shows Black and White students misbehave at about the same rates.

Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker said during a school board meeting Monday that the district wants to make a change that will allow everyone to learn and thrive and support students, not perpetuate harm against them.

“We will have a fully updated plan before the start of the 2021-2022 school year, but this does not mean that we are fully removing our SROs,” Kooiker said. “But it does mean that we will be operating differently, and we don’t have those details identified yet. We’re working through those currently.”

About 500 students at the seven schools that currently have SROs responded to a survey about them and their role. The majority of students said they had not seen a difference in how SROs disciplined students of color compared White students. But a much larger portion of Black students and students of color said they had seen that difference than White students who reported the same.

One speaker at Monday’s school board meeting argued that juvenile arrests can have repercussions for the rest of a person’s life and said those arrests are likelier to happen when there are officers in a school.

“If you’re disruptive in class, then you can be charged with disorderly conduct,” Jenny Schulz, the executive director of Kids First Law Center, said. “Or maybe you’re resisting leaving the classroom at your teacher’s direction or the SRO’s direction, and now you can be charged with interference with official acts. You take your friend’s phone as a joke, you can be charged with theft.”

The district will be holding two listening and feedback sessions for the public next week on this topic. One will be at Roosevelt Middle School on Monday from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., and the other will be at McKinley Middle School on Tuesday from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

The district will also be sending surveys to parents, community members, and staff members to get their feedback on this decision.

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