After nearly a decade in place, Cedar Rapids school officials believe it is finally time to begin overseeing the police officers hired to work in schools.
The Cedar Rapids School Board approved revisions to its contract with the city for school resource officers last week. Leaders in the district describe it as a “reset” of the program, which has been in place since 2010, and they promise to begin analyzing its results.
We still don’t have a clear response to this simple question after a few months of debate: What exactly is the role of police officers in public schools? If you ask seven members of the school board, you can get seven different replies.
Government schools should not be teaching students to mindlessly trust government agents. They should teach the younger generation to have a healthy skepticism of authority.
Following school shootings or other incidents, many districts across the country have implemented policing programs. In Cedar Rapids, however, this is not the case. Initially, a police trial program was presented to schools with no public explanation of the officers’ involvement.
When Cedar Rapids’ first school resource officer contract was approved in 2010, it was on the consent agenda, which meant it was accepted as part of a package of ostensibly ordinary actions with no debate.
School resource officers’ roles have been described as securing buildings, breaking up fights, monitoring social media, counseling students, monitoring gang activities, tracking guns, and confiscating drugs. Most of the time, it boils down to the crucial “building positive relationships” with pupils.
It’s possible that what they call connection development is actually intelligence collection. Cops build trust with citizens so that they feel more at ease reporting crime and participating with investigations. It wouldn’t be a problem if police simply pursued major violations.
But we all know that isn’t true. We are aware that police also enforce laws against narcotics, nuisances, and crime without a victim. Previously dealt with by school administration, some situations now result in criminal prosecution.
According to five years of statistics analyzed by the Iowa Department of Human Rights, black kids in Cedar Rapids were six times as likely as white students to be accused of a crime in school. According to an ACLU analysis released this year, Iowa is one of the ten worst states in the country for disproportionately detaining Black students in schools.
The Cedar Rapids School Board recently approved contract revisions that would help narrow the focus of school resource officers.
Two middle schools’ police officers have been relieved of their full-time duties. The revised agreement limits official police interviews with students and limits investigations into situations that occur outside of school hours. It keeps language from the previous agreement that says cops should not enforce school rules.
Perhaps the most significant change is that the district will begin providing data on police involvement in schools on a regular basis, with the objective of reducing arrests and eliminating racial disparities. It’s absurd that this hasn’t happened yet, but better late than never. Of course, it will only make a difference if the district takes action.
“As the data comes in month after month, we must analyze it and be prepared to act if required. … If the data shows that the improvements we’ve made aren’t making an impact, we should cancel the contract with the city. What is going on with some of our students is unconscionable.” Dexter Mersch is a member of the board of directors.
The district’s new police vision isn’t perfect. Administrators are emphasizing the importance of police officers providing “civic education.” Cops are supposed to teach students about “emotional learning” and “basic legal knowledge.”
Perhaps police officers, who are allowed to lie to us during interrogation, who enjoy special immunity when they violate our rights, and who subvert the democratic process through their powerful lobbies, should not be educating our children about the law.
If police have a role in schools, it should be focused on safety rather than civic education. Students should not be taught to blindly trust government agents in government schools. They should instill in the younger generation a healthy distrust of authority.
“A police officer is not a friend,” wrote Mark Stringer, director of the ACLU of Iowa, in a recent guest editorial for The Gazette.
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