Dec 8, 2021 - News

Des Moines debates return of school resource officers

Des Moines school board members on Zoom
Des Moines school board members listen as parents share concerns about classroom violence. Screenshot via Zoom

Some parents in the Des Moines school district are asking for the return of school resource officers.

What's happening: A parent expressed concern about videos and reports of violence in buildings during a board meeting Tuesday night.

  • But the majority of speakers, including students and staff, said they don't want officers to return, sharing concerns about criminalizing kids and disproportionate penalizations against students of color.

Flashback: The DMPS board voted last February to end its school resource officer program, citing a district survey that showed Black students were arrested at a rate six times higher than white students.

Of note: White students make up 40% of the population at DMPS, while Black students are about 18%.

State of play: This year, several viral videos have surfaced on TikTok and Snapchat showing Des Moines students brawling in hallways.

  • Behavior referrals, which are made for more serious school violations like assaults and weapon threats, are up for grades 7 and 9-12 in the 2021-22 school year, compared to 2019-20.

What they're saying: Lindsay LaGrange, a DMPS parent, told board members she believes the elimination of school resource officers has contributed to increased violence.

  • "My children are quite frankly afraid to go to school due to the constant fighting and violence and it's up to your already overworked and underpaid staff to keep them safe," LaGrange said.

Yes, but: Even before the end of the program, reports of violence and calls for police were ticking up at DMPS, the Register reports.

  • School staff injuries involving students climbed 88%, from 226 to 425 between 2014-15 and 2018-19.
  • Calls for police increased more than 26% over the past five years, and the majority involved assaults and disputes, according to the Register.

The big picture: While there is no concrete national data, school officials across the U.S. are anecdotally reporting an uptick in violence for the 2021-22 school year, EdWeek reports.

  • DMPS officials said they believe students having been out of the classroom and stress from COVID-19 has contributed to the uptick in classroom aggression.

What's next: School officials didn't take any action on SROs Tuesday. They plan to give students clear behavioral expectations before winter break, and outline consequences if they aren't met.

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