Whatever your feelings regarding school resource officers, this is the type of choice that should be discussed in a public forum.
School and police leaders in Cedar Rapids are having long-overdue debates regarding the role of police officers in schools. Unfortunately, the general public is being kept in the dark.
At the start of this school year, Cedar Rapids Community School District managers removed police officers from Roosevelt Middle School and McKinley STEAM Academy on their own, presumably without the approval of the School Board. They did so without informing the public, and it’s unclear whether board members were aware beforehand.
Whatever your feelings regarding school resource officers, this is the type of decision that should be discussed in a public meeting rather than behind closed doors among officials.
School officials have discussed changing their contract with the police department at recent public meetings, which may involve eliminating cops from the middle schools or sharing two officers’ time between the six middle schools.
The current democratic procedure was bypassed by district staff. According to Grace King of The Gazette, they removed cops from middle schools to avoid the “trauma” of having to remove them after they had developed ties with pupils. Administrators should have obtained board approval before the start of the school year if that was necessary.
Representatives from the school system have been hesitant to speak with journalists about the situation. The school system estimated fees exceeding $4,000 for public records relating to the decision-making process about school resource officers during The Gazette’s reporting.
Transparency aversion is part of a larger pattern. Members of the School Board frequently refuse to talk to the media or the public on sensitive subjects, claiming a policy that allows the board president to speak on their behalf. A policy like this is unsuitable for a representative government in which every board member is legally elected.
The school district is making the same mistakes it has made in the past. The decision to install police officers in Cedar Rapids schools was made without public participation a decade ago, and the program has operated with no meaningful public supervision since then.
Roosevelt and McKinley were never the only two middle schools having police officers for a reason. Those are the two intermediate schools with the most Black pupils, not necessarily the ones with the greatest discipline issues, lending credence to the claim that cops in schools disproportionately target black children.
The School Board is slated to consider the matter next week, but we believe it is too early to decide on altering the police department’s agreement. First, there must be open discussions, including an opportunity for the public to respond to police and school officials’ presentations.
The school district can avoid similar problems in the future by involving the public throughout the process, especially when it is politically unpopular.