Iowa City school board changes Saturday diversity meeting to 'listening post'

Change comes after objections from public, board members

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Following backlash from some school board members and the public, an Iowa City school board meeting on a controversial diversity policy has been changed to a “listening post" on Saturday.

That means the board will not vote Saturday on the policy, which would require schools to be within a specified range of each other in the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch. The policy also sets capacity requirements on high schools and junior high schools before more secondary schools can be built.

The listening post will last from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday at the district’s headquarters, 1725 N. Dodge St. in Iowa City. The second reading of the policy, which will include the first vote, is scheduled for Jan. 15.

It was not immediately clear if the board would schedule a special meeting after Jan. 15 to hold the final vote on the diversity policy. Board President Marla Swesey has said she wants the votes to occur as soon as possible and in advance of a Feb. 5 special school election on a funding document.

Swesey did not immediately return phone and email messages Thursday morning.

The policy, and Saturday’s meeting, has divided both the public and the board. Swesey on Tuesday said she had called for a 9 a.m. special meeting Saturday to get a vote in on the policy, but three board members objected and said their schedules would not allow them to attend. The three – Patti Fields, Jeff McGinness and Tuyet Dorau – also have raised the most issues with the diversity policy. The other four board members appear ready to support it.

An online petition calling for a vote on the policy to be delayed had been signed by more than 550 people as of late morning Thursday.

Also, the Iowa City Education Association Executive Board and Building Representative Council voted Wednesday to ask the school board to delay the vote. The ICEA is the local teachers union.

In a news release, ICEA President Tom Yates said the union supports a “workable diversity policy” but faulted “the lack of transparency in the creation of the policy by the Board, the lack of clarity in the language, the timing of the Board's decision, the potential logistics problems of implementing the policy, and the speed of the Board's decision-making process.”

At this time, the current draft of the policy is not publicly available. Four board members met Monday and made revisions to the initial draft, but the district’s administrative office said Thursday that edits were still being made to it. The policy has been primarily written by board members

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