Following public outcry, the Iowa City Community School District will delay implementation of a new school visitor system and will consider cancelling classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Both issues have drawn criticism from minority and immigrant communities.
The school board voted 7-0 late Tuesday night to postpone use of a system that would require visitors to show identification to be in schools.
With a 6-0 vote earlier in the night, with Tuyet Dorau absent, the board voted to direct Superintendent Stephen Murley to explore ways to shift programming scheduled for Martin Luther King Day, which is Jan. 20.
It is not clear, however, whether the board will actually cancel classes. Some members expressed support, while others wondered about the logistics and reasons for doing so.
The board’s next scheduled meeting is Jan. 14. Members spoke last night of meeting Dec. 17.
Some community members said they were caught off guard by the school district’s decision to break from recent practice and hold class on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
This school year, school is scheduled for what administrators have said will be a day of service to honor and learn about the civil rights icon.
For the dozen people who addressed the school board Tuesday night, and a couple of dozen more in the audience holding small signs like “Honor MLK,” the change was seen as disrespectful.
“From what I’m seeing, it looks like we’re going backwards,” said local activist Royceann Porter.
Murley said changing the school calendar would create scheduling difficulties and require cooperation with the teachers’ union because of the collective bargaining process.
He said the easiest solution probably would be to extend the school year by one day. But that would present a “significant challenge” with graduation, he said.
Graduation ceremonies are held at Carver-Hawkeye Arena the Thursday and Friday before Memorial Day. The facility is unavailable the following week, and Murley said he’d have to inquire whether two ceremonies can be held Friday or one can be moved to Saturday.
Circe Stumbo of Iowa City said the district and the nation have overcome greater challenges.
“That’s why we honor Martin Luther King,” she said.
Regarding the ID system, known as Raptor, school visitors would have had to show a form of identification, which would be scanned and used to perform a quick background check for sex offenses. Several forms of ID would be accepted.
Some people have said the system could be a barrier to low-income people or immigrants who may lack identification. It also could discourage people from becoming active in their children’s schools, they said.
“This decision that you’ve made will simply be a disaster for my community,” a Spanish-speaking woman told the school board through an interpreter.
About 15 people in all spoke, all against the system.
David Dude, the district’s chief operating officer, said visitors could bring things like a transcript, letter from an employer or other documents and have an ID issued by the district.
Board member Patti Fields said the district already struggles with trust among parents and questioned the need for such a program.
“What’s the issue?” she asked.
Board member Jeff McGinness said keeping sex offenders out of schools was a valid reason for implementing such a system.
Murley said the intent was not to keep people out of school buildings, but to know who is inside.