School counselor speaking to a student with hand over his face.

Iowa City School District Developing “Care Assessment” Teams for School Safety

The Iowa City Community School District is developing a “care assessment” team for its 29 schools, reports the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Led by newly hired care assessment coordinator, Dustin Gehring, the team will implement the Virginia Threat Assessment Model, a school safety tool used to prevent violence and resolve conflict. A key feature of the model, is a 5-step decision tree that resolves non-serious threats quickly while focusing on more serious threats.

“[The assessment model] doesn’t predict something that might happen, it tries to prevent it,” Gehring, a former police officer and teacher, said in an Oct. 13 school board meeting.

The Iowa City school district began looking for ways to best implement school safety measures after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The district received a $250,000, two-year grant from the School Violence Prevention Program to help fund the new measures.

According to data released by the district from the 2018-2019 school year, students were sent to the office 40 times that year for the use or possession of a weapon, with 29 of them leading to both in- and out-of-school suspensions. The same year, students were sent to the office about 3,450 times for “physical aggression without injury,” and nearly 460 instances were reported for “physical aggression with injury.”

Often referred to as “threat assessment,” Iowa City schools are changing the name to “care assessment” to highlight the use of prevention and restorative practices. The Virginia model uses disciplinary measures when necessary, while also providing students and families with mental health, counseling and conflict-resolution services.

Middle school and high schools will have their own safety teams and elementary schools will be filled by a district-wide team made up of staff like counselors, teachers, and administrators. Gehring hopes to assemble and train the teams by spring.

The district is contracting United Action for Youth to help implement its care assessment approach. Talia Meidlinger, director of counseling services at the organization, is working with the district to help them understand the way things like implicit bias and traumatic childhood experiences interact with care assessment.

"Things don't happen in a vacuum," Meidlinger told the Iowa City Press-Citizen. "We are all a product of the context and experiences of our lives, and we need to really understand all aspects of identity to understand what has brought us to a certain behavior."

Gehring is gathering input from several departments across the district including equity and support services, from students and the community.