Amidst public backlash and board member infighting, the Iowa City School Board held a listening post on Saturday morning to hear some public feedback on the recently proposed changes to the district's diversity policy.
Adam Sullivan of the Iowa City Press-Citizen writes that an awful lot of people showed up to give their feedback.
More than 100 people turned out to an Iowa City Community School Board listening post Saturday morning. The meeting initially was called so the School Board could vote on the second reading of the diversity policy — meant to curb vast poverty rate disparities across district schools — but that move stirred intense backlash from community members, so officials opted to only host a listening post, rather than vote on the document.
Heather Hobbs of KCRG was also at the event, and wrote that the policy received feedback from both supporters and detractors.
Those for the policy, believe it will help raise the level of student achievement
"Lincoln has six percent free and reduced lunch, 67 percent in the top 25 national test scores for 5th graders. Mark Twain has 79 percent free and reduced lunch, 4 percent in the top 25 nationally. These numbers are real and this is an attempt to bring those numbers into balance," Jason Lewis, Iowa City parent, said.
Laurie Moore supports the policy because she feels every child should get the same educational experience
"We have the resources in the community to serve all students well," Moore said.
But those against the policy feel, sending kids to a different school in another part of the town won't solve the problem, but rather create another one.
"High school is more than a means to a diploma, schools by their nature are social as well, breaking up musicals, debate, sports, drama for purpose of equilization effects individuals," Chris Arpey, Iowa City parent, said.
Improving the balance of diversity in Iowa City Schools, in this case measured under state required free-and-reduced lunch rate, has been a longstanding goal of several of the Iowa City School Board members, including most prominently Sarah Swisher. This is because research has shown a correlational relationship between the existence of pockets of poverty at individual schools and declining student achievement.
Currently free and reduced lunch rates are as low as the single digits at some schools (Lincoln Elementary the lowest at six) while being as high as 79 percent at others (Twain Elementary).
The draft policy, posted here, requires that Superintendent Steve Murley achieve a desired balance for certain grade levels by certain dates.
- no more than 10 percentage points of difference between the comprehensive high schools(grades 9-12) with the highest and lowest percentages of minority students at such schools in the District;
- no more than 15 percentage points of difference between the junior high schools (grades 7-8) with the highest and lowest percentages of minority students at such schools in the District; and
- for each elementary school (grades K-6), no more than 15 percentage points above the mean percentage of the district-wide percentage of minority students for all students in grades K-6.
It also calls for the superintendent to achieve this while observing certain capacity goals, but as some have pointed out, it leaves it mostly up to his discretion how to do so. Others have written that they are troubled by diversity being defined solely by free-and-reduced lunch rates.
The policy also apparently isn't that keen on forcing him to do it that quickly, as it gives the Iowa City Superintendent more than five years to reach the K-8 level benchmarks, and two years for the already closer secondary school level.
This arguing could be slightly overblown at this point, as the district could wait to do its redistricting until potentially opening up the new elementary schools it intends to open in both Eastern Iowa City and the North Liberty area, and a new high school in North Liberty-- all things that board has stated it wants to do if the public passes a Revenue Purpose Statement in February that allows the district to pay for the construction.
The projects are still of course yet to be passed, but school openings are traditionally used by school districts as occasions for redistricting, as there are legal restrictions on redistricting solely for the purpose of balancing diversity. This policy then would not force busing of children from one place to the next, as some in the community fear, but instead help guide future redistricting discussions.
In any case, the diversity policy will require two more votes before it can pass, one on this Tuesday evening's meeting, and another at its meeting on February 5.