Iowa City parents speak on school resource officers

Parents and committee members shared their opinions on the potential presence on school resource officers in Iowa City schools Tuesday night.


Kate Pixley

Member of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors Royceann Porter speaks to the school board during their meeting on April 23, 2019.

Kate Pixley, News Reporter

Iowa City School Board members introduced the findings of a safety plan on Tuesday evening, which included a recommendation to place school resource officers in high schools.

“The basic goals of the [resource officer] program are to provide a safe learning environment, reduce school violence, improve school/law enforcement collaboration, and improve relations among students, staff, and law enforcement officials,” the report said.

According to the School District, the School Safety Advisory Committee’s purpose is to provide guidance to the School Board about safety and security measures.

Among the other recommendations proposed by the committee were the establishment of a threat-assessment team, implementation of mental-health screenings for students, problem-solving and anti-bullying training, and creation of risk assessments at each building in the School District.

A future work session will further discuss the path forward, if any, regarding resource officers.

One School District mother, Molly Paige, spoke in favor of the officers, citing past incidents of school violence across the country.

“I am almost certain that no one looks back after a shooting and says ‘We did too much,’ ” she said.

Paige also cited a statistic from a 2004 federal report on school shootings that found that 81 percent of perpetrators told at least one person prior to the incident.

“I believe that the leaders of the Sandy Hook Promise would approve all eight [recommendations] and wish that they had this type of violence prevention prior to the shooting on Dec. 14, 2012,” she said.

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County Supervisor Royceann Porter also spoke during the meeting, criticizing the resource-officer program. Porter referred to previous instances of the School District’s considerations and uses of such officers.

“What happened? We shut it down. We didn’t want it. Because we knew we didn’t need it,” Porter said. “It came back up in 2015 because of an issue at West High School. And what happened? We shut it down, because we know it’s not helpful in our community. And here we are in 2019. They are police officers, and they are trying to be police officers. They are not trained to work with our children.”

Porter pointed out the lack of research into the efficacy of resource officers, specifically noting the negative effects the presence they could have on children of color.

“I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m black,” Porter said. “And I’m going to represent black and brown families until I die. There is nothing to merit [resource officers] in our community.”

Kate Callahan, the School District director of student services, introduced representatives of the safety committee and praised their hard work.

“I’m encouraged with what we’ve learned about safety and the opportunity to share these findings with you,” Callahan said.

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Travis Voshell, a committee member and instructional strategist at the soon-to-be-defunct Roosevelt Education Center, spoke in favor of the mental-health care that the district provides to its students.

“The committee applauds the [district’s] dedication to mental-health care that we do provide,” Voshell said. “In comparison to other school districts, we’re on the cutting edge. We really beef it up in our schools.”

Gregg Shoultz, a committee member and the West High principal, acknowledged that research into resource officers paints a problematic picture, but he believes the introduction of the officers into high schools would ultimately contribute to increased safety for students and staff.

Shoultz acknowledged the potential effect the presence of the officers would have on students, particularly students of color.

“Everybody on the committee agreed that a potential [resource officer] program would need to be constructed so these issues could not prevail,” Shoultz said.