Iowa City School Board tentatively supports a proposed threat assessment team

The Iowa City School Board has expressed support of a threat assessment team for the district, though the role of law enforcement in each school is still unclear.


Emily Wangen

The Iowa City Community School District office building is seen on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019.

Chloe O'Connor, News Reporter

The Iowa City School Board discussed the establishment of a threat-assessment team for the district at a work session Tuesday evening but did not back the placement of resource officers in Iowa City schools.

The proposed threat-assessment team would establish a district-wide team of professionals, including mental-health service workers, a possible law-enforcement official, domestic-violence services, and school administrators who will work together to evaluate and neutralize threats made to any schools or students. This also includes students threatening their own safety.

“The model that we’re working with for the team is the Dewey Cornell model,” school board member J.P. Claussen said. “It involves a wraparound approach to threat assessment. It puts a plan in place that lets administrators know what to do when there is a threat and how to respond appropriately so we don’t overreact or underreact to a threat.”

The heart of the evidence-based Cornell model — also known as the Virginia model — is a five-step threat assessment “decision tree.” According to the model, its primary goals include “safety for everyone … [and] to help the student to be successful in school.”

The model follows these steps: evaluate the threat, attempt to resolve the threat as transient, respond to the threat, conduct a safety evaluation for any serious substantive threat, and implement and monitor the safety plan. 

Iowa City West High School Principal Gregg Shoultz was among the seven principals from each district junior-high and high school who signed a letter asking the board to establish a threat-assessment team. Their request included a full-time police officer stationed at the district headquarters on North Dodge Street.

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“The threat-assessment team is a group that would meet to help us determine what is the extent of a threat to the school,” Shoultz said. “If we find that a student has a history of bringing weapons to school or something similar, the threat level goes up.”

The threat-assessment team discussion began over the summer when the district received a grant funding a civilian coordinator position on the proposed team. Since then, the conversation has evolved to a focus on the role of law enforcement in the team.

“The grant cannot be used for a law enforcement officer,” Assistant Superintendent Matt Degner said to the board Tuesday. “However, there’s still a lot of fear about this — the fears of administrators whose first priority is to protect the school, the fears of parents whose children might be at a school where a threat is being made, and the fears of those who may have been marginalized by this system. This is a scary subject.”

At the school board meeting, community members from both sides of the law-enforcement issue vocalized their ideas. While many support law enforcement within the team, others are opposed on the grounds of race- and ability-based disparities.

“It’s not that we’re not listening to the voices of people advocating for their children. It’s that we’re listening to the voices of all the people advocating for their children,” Iowa City School Board Member Shawn Eyestone said.

However, the Dewey Cornell model is proven to decrease suspension rates for both white students and students of color, said Karrie Price, an Iowa City school-district parent who addressed the board Tuesday.

RELATED: Iowa City parents speak on school resource officers

The threat-assessment team will be further discussed in a work session Oct. 22.

“The bottom line is we know what we’re doing now isn’t sufficient,” Degner said.