Iowa City won't recommend 'walkability' clause to school diversity policy

Council members say it's not their role to play, worry about harming policy

Teenage boy sitting alone in classroom
Teenage boy sitting alone in classroom

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Council will not ask the Iowa City Community School District to ensure students get to attend schools close to their homes when it comes to the district’s controversial diversity policy.

The majority of council members said at a work session Tuesday night that they were not interested it recommending a “walkability clause” be added to the diversity policy that some members of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission support.

Council members who took that view said they did not feel it was the city’s place to make such a request of the school board. They also were worried it could undermine the diversity policy.

“While I think walkability is a worthy pursuit ... I am very reluctant to have the city recommend a specific tweak to a very important policy that the district is now implementing,” Mayor Matt Hayek said.

A divided school board adopted the diversity policy last year. It seeks to prevent concentrations of low-income students in a handful of schools by using free or reduced-price lunch data to achieve better socio-economic distribution.

The school district this spring has started the process of redrawing school boundaries to comply with the policy and to prepare for planned construction projects.

The school board plans to vote on new boundary maps for 14 elementary schools next month, and it will revisit boundaries a few times over the next several years.

To comply with the diversity policy, the current redistricting proposal calls for some students who live near their schools, sometimes within sight of the building, to go to new schools.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission talked about the issue earlier this month. The city later issued a memo that suggested the commission favored a “walkability clause” to the diversity policy that would guarantee elementary school students who live within a half mile of a school get to attend the school.

Three commission members said what was proposed in the memo was not introduced at their meeting or consistent with what they discussed. City officials said Tuesday night it was the result of miscommunication.

School district Superintendent Stephen Murley said in an interview he doubted the walkability clause would be compatible with the diversity policy.

“We would have all kinds of issues with it,” Murley said.

Council members Kingsley Botchway II and Jim Throgmorton, while not backing a walkability clause, said they wanted the council to discuss the diversity policy and how the city, through its policies, affects where people live.

“If we’re going to support (the diversity policy), then we need to ... support it in a way that will really speak to affordable housing, that will really speak to the construction of our neighborhoods,” Botchway said.

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