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How the Iowa City school district is dealing with the threat of violence this school year

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) – The Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) is waiting to hear back on a federal grant proposal to put Threat Assessment Teams into its schools this fall.

A new coordinator to head the program will work with principals and faculty to predict and respond to threats at schools. They will also work with mental health professionals from local colleges and consult with the Iowa City Police.

The district thinks this will reduce school violence and give parents peace of mind.

“What they want is some sort of assurance that there will be safety,” School Board member JP Claussen said.”I think we just have to very careful that we aren’t reactionary and that we don’t put any systems in place where the reaction is bigger than the threat.”

As the district would also monitor students on social media as part of this program, many people are concerned about privacy and security.

“When you put information in front of a person who doesn’t have the ‘need to know,’ or the right to see that, you’re putting kids at risk,” Marian Coleman said.

Coleman and other members of the Black Voices Project spoke during public comment at a recent school board meeting, trying to caution the district on this move.

Some students say if the goal is addressing mental health, the resources should be put towards adding more counselors.

“I feel like students get turned into numbers and you can’t do that with students, every case is different,” West High School sophomore Peter Adams said. “I can understand having some specialists come in but why not just add more counselors for the schools?”

Claussen says it’s worth it, though, for the district to be another line of defense.

“It’s great when their friends catch it and they get a hold of their parents and the right thing happens. But if we can monitor that from our perspective with somebody who’s trained to know what the real threat is…to me that’s probably bigger than anything else we can do.”

Some parents support the district, though; saying it needs people watching for signs in the background before violence breaks out.

“To have representatives from each individual school as part of a threat assessment team is key, and that’s what has to be done,” ICCSD mom Molly Page said.

Threat assessment Teams were just one of eight recommendations made to the board in April. The only one its members are not pursuing is adding School Resource Officers.

“We have lots of evidence of law enforcement being very reactionary with terrible results,” Claussen said.

Many school districts, like the Cedar Rapids Community School District, have utilized SROs for years. As of 2018, they are installed at 9 schools in the area; including community colleges.

“I am an authority figure in the schools obviously, but I’m also a surrogate parent. I want all the babies to graduate, that’s my goal,” Kennedy High School SRO Charity Hansel said.

While some parents want SROs on these teams, the district is not considering it currently.

They will hear back on a federal grant for the program next month. The grant would cover $187,500 of the $250,000 program; the district covering the remaining 25%. That money would be available starting October 1.

“No matter what, this stuff is happening at school, so we do need parents to be able to trust that our schools know what to do,” Claussen said.

Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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