DAVENPORT, Iowa (Quad-City Times ) — Parents and the public would receive monthly reports on police officers’ activity within Davenport public schools, and students and faculty would be asked to evaluate their level of comfort and safety in school buildings with officers present under a new, proposed agreement.
Davenport aldermen and Davenport Community School Board members met Monday with local representatives of the NAACP and League of United Latin American Citizens for a joint work session to discuss a proposed memorandum of understanding to continue to station school resource officers — or SROs — within Davenport schools.
The agreement is the result of the work of a working group of city and school district officials formed last summer to review and refine the scope of work and expectations of the SRO program.
“We will provide monthly data reports to the public, via websites and other (means) on what is actually happening in schools with the SRO program,” Davenport Mayor Mike Matson said of the proposed 10-year agreement. “Evaluations will be put into play (by the Davenport Police Department) in collaboration with the schools and building principals to evaluate the SRO program in general, but especially the officers that are involved.”
The SRO program was aimed to build rapport with students and law enforcement, providing a trusted adult to turn to when there was trouble.
Once the fastest-growing area of law enforcement, which some have attribute to the increased visibility of school shootings over the past decade, protests this summer over police killings of unarmed Black men and women have sparked intensified criticisms of the use of SROs and their role in the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, with students of color disciplined at higher and often more severe rates than their peers.
In 2018, Davenport schools were cited by the state for disproportionately disciplining minority special-education students. Not all discipline stemmed from an interaction with a SRO. But Davenport schools reported record-high numbers of suspensions and expulsions in 2018–19.
Several school districts, including in Minneapolis, Portland, Denver and Seattle, have voted to phase out SROs. And some community members have encouraged the school district to divest money from the resource officer position and spend it on additional mental health and support services.
“What would we as a district, or as a city, say to those families who say, ‘No, we shouldn’t even be having this discussion’?” Davenport school board member Allison Beck said.
Matson, a Junior Army Reserve Officer Training Corp teacher at Davenport Central High School, said everyday he witnesses the positive relationships the SROs develop with students, particularly young men of color.
“I would say to the folks, ‘Give us a chance to show you that its working or not working, frankly,” Matson said. “Because, up until this point … we didn’t have a program. We had officers in our schools, and I think the officers did wonderful work. And I will stand by that. … But, we need to show to the community that we’re serious with data-driven information, and we’re going to be transparent.”
The proposed agreement would:
Codify that all school resource officers be trained and certified through the National Association of School Resource Officer. All current SROs are certified through the national governing body. All new SROs would have to be certified as well
Gauge how school resource officers are contributing to a safe school climate, including the perception of safety by students. All students and faculty where SROs are stationed would be anonymously surveyed annually of how safe and comfortable they feel with officers in their building. The data would be desegregated by race, ethnicity and gender.
Require the reporting of monthly statistics to be reported by the Davenport Police Department of arrests and citations within school buildings, referrals made to the diversion program, mediations held with students and parents, and the number of police tips that come in through the schools. The monthly statistics would be published by the city and school district on their websites
Establish annual evaluations of school resource officers to include meetings with the officers, their supervisor and building administrators to make sure the SRO program is being implemented consistently and officers are being utilized in the same way by school principals throughout all of the buildings
Gauge the effective of classes taught school resource, such as “The Law and You” and “Technology and the Law,” through pre- and post-assessments of students who take the classes
The annual surveys and evaluations would also include feedback on how SROs are building relationships with students through coaching, mentoring and participation in school functions
Davenport Alderman Ben Jobgen, 6th Ward, and Marion Meginnis, 3rd Ward, suggested the MOU also include surveying parents. Meginnis, too, urged that the MOU spell out that officers not be used to respond to disciplinary or behavioral issues in the classroom that can be handled by school staff, thereby turning what is a behavioral issue into a criminal incident.
Michael Guster, president of the Davenport branch of the NAACP, said while “not a fan of SROs, I am supporting this MOU” for the data that would be tracked and gathered as part of the agreement to gauge the effectiveness of having officers stationed in the schools.
“It’s a good start to be able to look at how we measure how well the SROs are working with our students,” Guster said after the meeting. “It also gives us an opportunity to measure what kind of contact they are having with Black students, which is of concern to me, and I want to be able to measure that as we move forward … to allow us to look into the statistics — the data — and determine how well or how bad they might be doing with students of color.”
Alderwoman Judith Lee, 8th Ward, said she too is pleased to see the extent of the data collection.
“You can have people in the schools, but without a managed program, we don’t know if it’s working, if it’s doing that you want it to do or if its even contributing to problems,” Lee said. “This goes a long way to creating a consistent program.”
Davenport Superintendent T.J. Schneckloth said the district will “continue to look at how” the agreement fits into the district’s crisis response and violence prevention goals and training, which the SROs have participated in.
“And we need to continue to make sure that this program is aligned tightly with the work that we are doing,” Schneckloth said.
Matson said the proposed memorandum will be placed on upcoming Davenport City Council and school board agendas for further discussion, consideration and approval.
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