Deliberations on the future of school resource officers in Cedar Rapids public schools progress in a narrow narrative. SROs work in high schools, but how do they work in colleges? Although the majority view seems to be that ORS helps make schools safer, what about students of color who feel very different?
On Monday, the Cedar Rapids School Board wisely voted 6 to 1 to delay action on finalizing a new one-year contract with the Cedar Rapids Police Department. On Tuesday, the city council approved a new contract, including SROs operating in colleges, after a discussion largely over school safety.
School board members said they need more data on SRO performance, particularly regarding the disproportionate number of black students arrested by officers. The district favors an on-call model for colleges, rather than having them floating between buildings daily.
Yes, we need more data. And the data needed must dig much deeper into the problems of SROs than a survey with a low response rate. It’s one thing, for example, to have suspension numbers, arrest numbers, and a certain number of students on a waiting list for mental health care, but how do those numbers overlap? ? What is the full picture?
What we also need is a much more comprehensive community conversation. This should be more than a discussion focused on ORS, or no ORS or some ORS. We should also talk about what else is being done in schools to address safety, behavioral issues, mental health needs, and other issues. And what else should be done?
SROs should be just one part of a much larger effort to make schools safe learning spaces for all students. Cedar Rapids Schools could be a statewide leader in this effort, instead of just approving a contract and moving on.
In the Cedar Rapids district alone, school therapists are at capacity, but three-year trend data shows both an increasing number of students receiving and being referred for services. The gap is widening. Last school year, 885 Cedar Rapids students received services from a school-based therapist, while more than 520 were referred but waited, refused, or received services outside of the school system.
Statewide, Medicaid applications show that 131,651 children ages 17 and under received mental, behavioral, or substance abuse treatment services in fiscal year 2020. State figures do not do not include data for children covered by private insurance.
This week’s local votes on ORS came hours after Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds announced $100 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for school safety. The funds are focused on vulnerability assessments in schools, active shooter training and creating ways to report and monitor threats of violence. The state plan fails to allocate funds for mental health services for children.
It’s a chance to finally have the discussion around these issues that is long overdue, and goes beyond the need for OAR. As a community, let’s dig deeper.
(319) 398-8262; [email protected]