Iowa City diversity discussion shows board dissent

Plan calls for moving some students to new schools to achieve balance

School board discussion of a proposed plan that seeks to balance the number of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches in the Iowa City Community School District focused not on diversity but rather on consistency.

Both district residents and board members aired their issues with the policy's language and targets during its first reading at Tuesday's regular board meeting.

One repercussion of the plan involves moving students to different buildings in order to achieve that balance and alleviate the current chasm between district schools, a move that educators believe will reduce the challenges faced by schools with high concentrations of those learners.

The current draft of the policy calls for "at least 95 percent of the capacity of the permanent secondary building capacity should be utilized," before adding on to current junior and high schools or building another school, such as the oft-debated potential third high school in North Liberty.

Board member Tuyet Dorau said that the board needs to look at building capacity at all levels instead of the focus on junior high and high schools, citing that the district's largest disparities in free and reduced-price lunch students, a measure of diversity, lie in the elementary buildings.

"We need to use our seats," she said. "We can't ignore that and say it's only a secondary issue."

Board member Sarah Swisher countered that elementary buildings are smaller, have fewer students and thus present different planning challenges than schools with older students. As written, the plan allows five years for changes in the elementary and junior high buildings and two years for the high schools.

A number of community members attended the meeting and spoke out, with the majority supporting the current diversity plan because of its promise to extend equitable educational opportunities to students across the district.

The board will have second and third readings of the policy before voting on whether to approve it.

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