Letter to the Editor: Former and Current School Board Members Troubled By Aspects of New Diversity Policy

Former board of education member Michael Shaw and current member Tuyet Dorau share their concerns in this letter to the editor.

Editor's Note: Submit your Letters to the Editor on this or other topics here or by emailing stephen.schmidt@patch.com.

A Letter to the Editor Co-written by current Iowa City school board member Tuyet Dorau and former board member Michael Shaw

Let us first state, we are not against diversity. We believe diversity is what provides us the uniqueness of life. However as stated, the currently proposed “Diversity Policy” for the Iowa City Community School District worries us.

The traditional definition of minority has been used to implement policies such as affirmative action on both state and federal levels.  Our own school district uses the traditional definition when hiring and when boosting about the inclusiveness of our community.  The new definition of “minority” is an insult to members of our community in multiple ways.  It is insulting to those of us who have received free or reduced lunch to be defined as “minorities”.  It is equally distasteful to conflate poverty with race and ethnicity.  It is offensive to people of color who might not be receiving free or reduced lunch and it is dismissive of white families who are struggling with issues related to poverty.  Additionally, with the change in the definition of minority we believe the District sends a message to ethnic and racial minorities that it will change the definition of minority whenever it benefits the social policy it is trying to implement. For example, while some families last year were not considered minorities, if this policy passes then suddenly they would have attained minority status.  Basically, children only achieve minority status and its “perceived” benefits when it benefits the District to declare it to be so.

In the end we would like to think our educational successes were due to the outstanding educators we were all blessed to encounter.  We want to believe there were systems in place to support us that had nothing to do with whether or not we were sitting next to someone who happened to live in an economically middle class family.  We have read the research from Richard Kahlenberg and the 21st Century Foundation. As a researcher and a consumer of research, it is clear to us that Kahlenberg’s research is correlational, not causational. We need to look at the causes of educational success and struggles and target interventions based on what evidence shows will cause the best results.  Kahlenberg’s research shows a relationship that is no more significant than the relationship between taking the city bus and poor student achievement. 

We have no doubt there is a strong relationship between barriers to education and poverty; as poverty increases so do the barriers to education. As a community let’s address the fundamental problem; poverty.  This policy does not do that and maybe it shouldn’t.  As a school district let’s address barriers to learning with clarity and focus. Let’s put the burden of increasing access to education on the District rather than on families.  Perhaps instead of focusing on moving children, let’s focus on what we are providing our children. We are not advocating for a separate but equal policy. We are advocating for maintaining geographic neighborhood schools (which is something that our community has vehemently advocated for in all of our boundaries discussions). In doing this, if we continue to have schools that are significantly above the district poverty mean, then perhaps we need to have a real discussion regarding resources we provide to those schools. We can talk about significant increases in resources, significant decreases in class sizes, perhaps year round schooling, perhaps longer school days, perhaps a metric that allows for increased funding when a school has a high mobility rate or a low stability rate, bonuses for teachers in those schools to not only retain the high quality teachers we currently have there but to attract more, implementing the 90/90/90 model. There are a number of avenues we can explore while keeping children in the schools that are geographically closest to their homes.    

Regardless of our individual thoughts on this proposed policy, we believe our community needs to be provided the opportunity to weigh in on this discussion. We do not believe the Board of Education should be implementing a policy such as this without actively seeking input from our stakeholders.  The recently scheduled special meeting Board President Marla Swesey called where she only contacted four Board members lacks good communication, good governance, and transparency. 

Why are we rushing this policy?  Why are we not actively seeking input from our community?  Why are we not reaching out to those who lack transportation, have child care conflicts, those that work seconds and third shifts and those that have language barriers?  Why are we not seeking input from the people this policy is intended to benefit?  We have sought comprehensive input in the past from key stakeholders, why are we not doing this now?  

We believe this Board of Education should place a higher value on the voices of the people we serve.


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