STC School Board discusses hiring SRO

South Tama Community School District and the School Board had a heart discussion on hiring a full-time SRO during Monday’s meeting. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.

During Monday night’s meeting, the South Tama County Board of Education discussed hiring a full-time School Resource Officer, with Superintendent John Cain and Toledo Chief of Police Dan Quigley presenting a rough draft of policies pertaining to a possible SRO at the schools.

School Resource Officers — also known as SROs — are sworn law enforcement officers responsible for safety and crime prevention inside schools in an effort to create a safer environment for faculty and students.

“We’ve talked about this for some time. Chief Quigley has been able to present me with some school calls since September 2017 and collected community data. The city of Tama and Toledo has been contacted 732 times during that five-year span,” Cain said.

Those calls have included traffic collisions and violations within the vicinity and inside the school parking lots, calls pertaining to school events, student violations of laws, and other such incidents.

STC has a School Safety Committee in place and established a mental health care program to help assist students in need, but as Board members discussed, they don’t feel that is has been effective enough.

“Chief Quigley has been a part of our school safety committee. He’s been a part of the process from the get-go. We’ll continue to meet as a school and city team as we move forward. Our [school district] has systems and structures in place, and the SRO will fit right in. Our administration is already used to one-on-ones [with officers],” Cain said.

After identifying the need for an SRO at all three of the STC schools, Cain and Quigley have worked alongside the School Safety Committee to define the SROs’ role in the schools.

“The Safety Committee wants to ensure the SRO roles are clear from day one. So when the SRO steps into the building and understands their role and responsibility,” Cain continued.

Quigley went on to expound a bit on what exactly an SRO’s job would look like.

“An SRO isn’t a chaperone in school. They’re there to build relationships and enforce policies,” he said. “Law enforcement and the school administration need to figure out what the practices will be [for SROs.]”

Building relationships between the school district and local law enforcement was paramount for both Quigley and Cain.

“Helping build relationships [between] faculty, students, and with the officers will be positive. Building those relationships will hopefully, ultimately, curb some negative behaviors and activities,” Quigley said.

“We want to build a climate and culture where that SRO identifies students in need, works with their situation, and implements a good communication plan,” Cain added.

The board, along with Quigley and Cain, extensively discussed the hiring process for an SRO at STC.

“The biggest hurdle now with the SRO position is the hiring process,” said Quigley.

Cain said the district would have a few different departments to potentially draw from.

“We’ll continue to look at the hiring process. Ultimately, we want to get the best person [for the job]. The Tama and Toledo [Police Departments] have expressed interest, and we’ve also involved the Meskwaki [Police] in some of these discussions. We’re leaning towards one officer from either department for the position of SRO, and, at this point, we’re open to any officers,” he said. “But we want a candidate with some experience, and we want to hire the best fit for our community.”

Chief Quigley did stress some cons to hiring an SRO to the School Board.

“There will be growing pains. It will be something new and need a probationary period. As a South Tama graduate, when I was in high school, I’d see part-time SROs, fire, and EMS services in a certain capacity [at the school]. Although, prior to the Columbine shooting [in 1999], I don’t know if they had SRO training yet. But, in recent years, SRO training has been pushing forward,” he said.

Other board members addressed concerns about SROs targeting students, defining the ‘bad kids’ and potentially perpetuating the school-to-prison-pipeline, which is defined by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund as “funneling students out of school and into the streets, and the juvenile correction system perpetuates a cycle known as the ‘School-to-Prison-Pipeline,’ depriving children and youth of meaningful opportunities for education, future employment, and participation in our democracy.”

More information at NAACP School-to-Prison-Pipeline.

Quigley responded to these concerns.

“There are certain guidelines that police have to follow that would curb this behavior of targeting an individual. We want students and community members to see the police aren’t so scary,” he said. “If a student needs some form of guidance, the SRO can help with that. Whether it’s listening or helping, they’ll help however they can.”

Current STC policy doesn’t involve law enforcement until the second offense. More information can be found in the STC Student Handbook.

The Iowa Compilation of School Discipline Laws and Regulations has additional information from the Department of Education.

SROs are required to complete the Iowa School Resource Officer Certification Program with state-mandated 36 hours of continued training every three years. More information can be found at the Iowa Association of School Resource Officers website https://iasro.org/

The final concern issued by the School Board was funding. The funding would most likely come from the schools general funds or the state’s operational funds.

“We’ll need to look over funding in the next few weeks and have more details at our next March meeting. We’re checking on the Stronger Connections Grant (deadline April 14) to see how it can offset some of the training costs over the next few years,” Cain said. “We’re hoping for a five-year plan with the SRO.”

Quigley also identified funding to provide or cover SRO training from a shared agreement between the school district and the police department.

No decision has been made, but Superintendent Cain was adamant about pursuing the process of defining the role of an SRO for the school district and potentially beginning the hiring process soon.

“I would like to see it at the next March meeting so we can move forward with a plan. The due process is going to take a month. It would be nice to have the officer identified in May, so they can take advantage of any June training that’s offered,” he said.

The next South Tama School Board meeting will be held on Monday, March 20, at 5 p.m. in the STC Partnership Center or virtually at meet.google.com/cmp-hzbw-idu.

Community members can contact School Board members to ask questions or address concerns.

Superintendent John Cain – jcain@s-tama.k12.ia.us

Board Secretary Katie Mathern – kmathern@s-tama.k12.ia.us

District 1 Director Elizabeth Dolezal – elizabethdolezal@s-tama.k12.ia.us

President & District 2 Director Mandy Lekin – mlekin@s-tama.k12.ia.us

Vice President & District 3 Director Penny Tyynismaa – ptyynismaa@s-tama.k12.ia.us

District 4 Director Beth Wiese – bwiese@s-tama.k12.ia.us

District 5 Director Clint Werner – cwerner@s-tama.k12.ia.us