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Cedar Rapids Schools agrees to police in schools, but not middle schools

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Doc Searls
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Cedar Rapids Schools reduced the number of police officers that will patrol its hallways.

Cedar Rapids Community Schools will start the new school year with five uniformed police officers at five of its schools under an amended contract with the City of Cedar Rapids. The school board voted last night to drop plans for two additional so-called “floating officers,” who would have responded within the district as needed.

From Sioux City to Davenport, Iowa schools have commonly contracted with local police to provide varying levels of presence in schools. But they’ve come under fire, particularly in the aftermath of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin's murdering George Floyd, a Black man, in 2020.

Advocates say the police stationed in hallways keep schools safe at a time when violence – particularly gun violence – is on the rise. Opponents argue the presence of police risks getting children – particularly brown and Black kids – involved earlier in a criminal justice system they are already overrepresented in.

Cedar Rapids Schools isn’t the first to consider reducing police presence in the hallways. Some school districts like Des Moines Public Schools and Ames Community Schools, voted to get rid of their programs in the last few years.

Cedar Rapids Schools reduces contract for SRO program

Monday's vote was on the same agreement unanimously passed by Cedar Rapids City Council on June 14. Under that agreement, the city and school district would have split a $975,000 bill to bring in seven school resource officers. Five were assigned to Jefferson High School, Kennedy High School, Washington High School, Polk Alternative Education Center and Metro High School. Two – the so-called floating officers – wouldn’t be tied to individual schools but would instead respond within the district as needed.

The new agreement leaves those five school-specific positions intact, but the passed amendment by Director Dexter Merschbrock cuts those floating School Resource Officers, or SROs, completely.

“There are other things we can do at the middle school and high school level where we don’t have to keep increasing the number of SROs to get the results we are looking for,” he said.

IPR News reached out to Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell who said the school board’s vote was important to the process.

“We look forward to continuing our work with the Cedar Rapids Community School District and School Board,” she said in a statement. “We share their determination to best serve the needs of the students while ensuring a safe learning environment.”

Following Monday night’s meeting, Merschbrock said the two floating officers came about following a previous plan that had a sixth and seventh officer designated at McKinley STEAM Academy and Wilson Middle School: the two middle schools that had a higher number of incidents police responded to last year.

“We heard many stories about SROs building positive relationships with students. But there are just as many stories about kids feeling uncomfortable, feeling unsafe. And I don’t have the same life experience as these kids, but it’s not surprising that kids feel that way with an SRO in their building,” he said. “And so when they come to me and they say that that they feel uncomfortable, to me it is very easy to understand where they are coming from. And I wish more people did.”

A new cost for a new agreement

Dropping the two floating positions will mean a cheaper total contract between the city and school district.

The city calculated that each SRO position would cost $139,279 for the fiscal year, according to the agreement. While the original contract cost $974,953 in total, the new contract would be $696,395 for the five new officers, providing the change in number doesn’t adjust the city’s calculation for budgeting the position.

The school district would pay half that amount ($348,197.50) to the city.

A City of Cedar Rapids spokesperson confirmed Tuesday that the Cedar Rapids City Council will have to take up the amendments in a future meeting. But as of publication, consideration had not been scheduled.

Editor's note: This article was updated at 3:30 p.m. on July 12 with comment from the City of Cedar Rapids.

Zachary Oren Smith is a reporter covering Eastern Iowa