July 18, 2008

Iowa City Schools Say No to Armed Guards

By Gregg Hennigan, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Jul. 18--IOWA CITY -- The Iowa City school district should not hire armed security guards for its high schools, a district committee has concluded.

In fact, the group decided there was no need for any guards, commonly called school resource officers, even if they did not carry guns, Associate Superintendent Jim Behle said Friday.

The district began studying the issue last fall following a sharp increase in fights among high school students early in the school year.

But fighting dropped as the year progressed and most of the research the group reviewed found resource officers were ineffective as a deterrent, Behle said.

Public opinion was another factor, he said.

"We didn't find overwhelming evidence that our community would support those in our schools," he said.

Superintendent Lane Plugge will discuss the issue with the school board at its meeting Tuesday, although the decision is for administrators to make, Behle said. Plugge, who was out of the office Friday, is in favor of the committee's recommendation, Behle said.

The committee was made up of principals, teachers, students and parents, he said.

Also Tuesday, the board will receive the annual report on school safety.

It shows that there were 80 fights in the high schools last school year, down from 85 the year before. Of last year's total, 56 were in the first trimester, which prompted the security guard study.

The schools made adjustments in how they discipline students and added an off-site "conduct disorder classroom" where students in serious fights must stay for at least eight weeks.

Behle said the program has been a good deterrent. "Our students like to come to school," he said. "For no other reason, their friends are there."

The percentage of junior high and high school students who dropped out last year was 1.9 percent, the same as the year before.

But black students continue to make up a disproportionate number of those who leave school. Though black students made up 16 percent of the district's junior high and high school students last year, they accounted for 36 percent of the drop outs.

A small victory, Behle said, is that although there were about 165 more black students in grades 7-12 last year than the year before, the number of black students who dropped out remained the same at 35.

The district in recent years has added programs aimed at minority students, and two more will start up this fall. One is a welcome center at City High intended to help acclimate students new to the area. The other is a career center at West High that will try to connect students with the community through work.


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