Dec 6, 2022 - News

ACLU of Iowa urges removal of officers from schools

Illustration of an apple wearing a police cap.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The ACLU of Iowa is pushing for districts to get rid of school resource officers, citing data that shows Black Iowa public school students are arrested at higher rates than their white peers.

  • The group released a "toolkit" recently to advise community members on how to change district policies.

Why it matters: Students who are arrested at school suffer from a disruption in their everyday learning.

  • They may also struggle with long-term consequences, such as being more likely to drop out of high school and losing college opportunities.

By the numbers: The most recent statewide numbers from 2017-18 federal data shows Black students in Iowa public schools were arrested at 7.8 times the rate of white students, the third worst disparity in the U.S., according to the ACLU of Iowa.

  • Latino students were arrested at a 1.9 times higher rate, while students with a disability were arrested three times more often than students without disabilities.
  • About 1 in 5 Iowa public schools have sworn law enforcement officers, according to ACLU.

Zoom in: Des Moines public schools decided to eliminate its school resource officer program in 2021.

  • Since then, the racial disparities of students arrested have improved, said Jake Troja, director of school climate.
  • In 2019, Black students were three times more likely to be arrested in comparison to white students — 63% vs. 21%, he said. Now, that's 59% to 27% — about twice the rate, Troja said.

What they're saying: Transitioning away from the SRO program was difficult at first and there was a learning curve, Troja said. But the money for the SRO program was diverted toward more staff and there's been a decrease in physical fights, he said.

The other side: Some Des Moines parents have said they felt the decision to eliminate officers has done the opposite and led to more fights and distractions in the classroom.

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