Cedar Rapids Community School District discusses transparency amid changes to school resource officer program

Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 7:00 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -Our KCRG-TV9 i9 investigative team found changes to the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s school resource officer program were kept quiet for nearly two weeks before being presented to the public and the school board.

The school district asked the police department to remove officers from two middle schools before the school year started. On August 23rd when students returned to McKinley and Roosevelt middle schools, their SRO’s were not there. That same night, district leaders presented that only as a proposed recommendation to the school board.

”None of these recommendations have been put into place yet,” Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker said during the presentation.

But emails our i9 team obtained from an open records request show by the time of the board meeting, SRO’s had already been pulled from the middle schools.

An August 11th email from the District to the Cedar Rapids Police Department says, “We will not want SRO’s to begin work at the MS’s (middle schools) since we will be removing them from these locations.”

The email listed the 14 recommended changes to the program and said, “We would like this list to be kept between you and us at this time until we can share publicly the changes to our system at the August 23rd board meeting.”

We asked Superintendent Noreen Bush why the recommended changes were not released to the board or the public prior to the August 23rd meeting.

“So in the June and July, both board meetings. These, I guess you could say hypothesis, these questions were in the board meetings, like what might this look like,” Bush explained.

She told us as questions arose at board meetings over the summer, it was management’s job to make decisions ahead of the school year.

”We worked with CRPD and said if we were to have two positions show up at the first day of school and then changed it with a board approval and a city council approval, that could be very difficult to manage in the middle of a school year,” Bush said.

She explained that she didn’t want information released early to get misconstrued.

Switching up the middle school positions was just one of the recommended changes formed after getting feedback from public meetings, surveys and data.

Lawrence Wenclawski was one of many community members who spoke about SRO’s during the public comment period of the August 23rd board meeting. He told us he believes their mind was already made up and wishes the meetings were handled differently.

”Presentations about different items are always at the end of the meetings and never before people comment so people are speculating on what the district’s going to say,” Wenclawski said.

”People on both sides feel strongly and people on both sides are going to feel like they were not a valued member of the discussion leading up to these decisions,” Randy Evans told us, Executive Director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

Board Vice President David Tominsky said comments from the public are taken into account when making decisions.

”I really want people to know that our board meetings are open. I take what people say from the community very seriously,” Tominsky said.

We asked Superintendent Bush if there’s anything she would have handled different in terms of transparency.

”I think everyday is an opportunity to learn and get better at what we do, so yes I’m sure there are things we could have done better from the onset to where we are now,” she said.

The school board unanimously approved the changes in their meeting earlier this week.

The two middle school SRO’s are still in place but will float between middle and elementary schools as needed instead of being housed inside of McKinley and Roosevelt.

The city council does still need to vote on the changes since it involves amending a contract between the Cedar Rapids Police Department and the Cedar Rapids Community School District.

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