Aug 25, 2021 - News
Des Moines police officers no longer stationed at district schools
A police officer leans on school lockers.
Photo: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Students won't be seeing police officers stationed at Des Moines Public Schools this year.

  • Starting Wednesday, Iowa's largest public school district has officially replaced school resource officers (SROs) with "restoration and safety coordinators." That means staff members are now in charge of safety and security at their school buildings.

Why it matters: The district eliminated the roles in response to local and national concerns that SROs fuel a "school-to-prison pipeline" — the link between punishments such as expulsions that place students out of school and into the criminal justice system.

Of note: Police will still be called in extreme situations, specifically those involving weapons and illegal drugs, Scavo Alternative High School principal Rich Blonigan told Axios.

  • At least five facilitators from the nonprofit Urban Dreams have also been hired to work in schools to help address student issues before they become problematic or disruptive.

By the numbers: DMPS launched its SRO program more than 20 years ago, and it has cost about $750K in recent years.

  • About a dozen fully sworn officers were stationed in middle and high schools.
  • More than 300 students were arrested in DSM schools during the 2019 school year. (Some were not yet teenagers.)

The big picture: SRO programs grew in popularity in recent decades to foster a safe environment and build relationships between students and police.

  • As many as 20K SROs are currently stationed in schools, according to an estimate from the National Association of School Resource Officers.

Yes, but: DMPS is among at least 33 districts that have eliminated the programs since May of 2020, according to Education Week.

  • Research showing they fuel school arrest rates and disproportionally affect students of color is driving the change, according to the Justice Policy Institute.

The bottom line: All eyes are on Des Moines as the district's experience this year could influence the future of SRO programs across the country.

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