By Amy Nielsen
The stated goal of the proposed Iowa City Community School District’s diversity policy is to “provide equitable learning environments for the students attending ICCSD.” Unfortunately, I do not see how the proposed policy achieves this outcome.
It is naive to expect the community to take the “leap of faith” in supporting the school board as they create a policy by bastardizing the term “diversity” to fit their needs in a veiled redistricting attempt. While the board “hopes” that future administration will employ tools such as magnet schools and other non-disclosed incentives to move students into a more balanced environment, without definitive plans in place, the board is leaving the method for creating the desired balance completely open.
The community has been told that redefining diversity in terms of poverty levels (using free- and reduced-price meal standards) has been done by other school districts and is supported by research. It also must be noted that it was not the re-balancing of FRL ratios alone that led to improved test scores in other school districts, but also programmatic improvements and incentives.
The reason I’ve most often heard used by parents arguing for this policy is that their students who attend one of the schools that has less than 40 percent air conditioning would receive some relief. Nowhere in the proposed diversity policy does it address facility inadequacies.
Another supporting argument was that high FRL rates can be equated to low test scores. Nowhere does the policy provide any guidelines to improve the lower test scores of the students in schools with higher FRL.
The policy does, however, address, by 2014 address, facility utilization benchmarks in the existing grades nine to 12 buildings. Level 2C of the proposed policy relates solely to capacity utilization and is seemingly unrelated to diversity. The policy then strictly states that the superintendent must meet certain goals based only on capacity utilization and that addition/expansion cannot take place until this rigid, non-diverse mandate is met.
How is this diversity? How are parents not led to believe that this diversity policy is a thinly-veiled plan to preserve the status of City High and prevent the expansion into a third high school?
A diversity policy is no place to put a limit on resources because one side of the district is growing faster than the other side at this point in history. The school board is being pressured by outspoken community members to use the guise of diversity to solve problems such as facility inequity, facility capacity issues, overcrowding and perceived community slights .
If parents want to see improvements to their facilities, we need to focus on passing the revenue purpose statement to give administrators the resources they need to address the real issues that parents with children in our district face today. This is why I once again ask that the board discontinue the pursuit of this policy until after the February referendum on RPS.
The school board and the community need to be focusing on this singular issue that is of most importance to the students and not fighting over this diversity policy.
After we have RPS behind us, I would like to see the board draft an equity statement, written by teachers, administration, parent representatives from all areas of the district, and most important, the district’s equity director.
Amy Nielsen of North Liberty is the parent of three students in the Iowa City Community School District. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org