The need for maintaining “neighborhood schools” is a core belief I share with many people in the Iowa City schools attendance area, for all students, regardless of their race, religion, sexual preference, or socio-economic standing. In short, the closest school to where the student lives is the school that student should attend.
There are some in our community advocating for a busing policy that, in essence, imposes quotas on how many of certain subgroups of students should attend any of our district’s amazing schools. Their belief that some students would achieve better outcomes if they were bused, at considerable expense, to schools located far from their homes and neighborhoods. Students from households living below the poverty line or from traditionally marginalized groups face tremendous barriers and stressors in their lives. Transporting them away from their closest schools will not eliminate those barriers and stressors; in fact, it is my opinion this will exacerbate them. Additionally, busing policies such as the one proposed by some would stigmatize young impressionable humans who are left feeling that they are not worthy of attending the school nearest their home.
The Iowa City school district is comprised of some very diverse neighborhoods and I propose we celebrate them and invest in the students who live in those neighborhoods by lowering class sizes and putting programming in place that will bridge the district’s well-documented achievement gaps. To me it comes down to a choice between buying buses and diesel fuel, or hiring more teachers. Even if one believes that busing students from “failed” or “failing” schools to “successful” schools will lead to better outcomes, we cannot simply use metrics established under No Child Left Behind and standardized test scores as barometers of a school’s success or failure. All our schools face unique challenges and our dedicated teachers and building staff provide top-notch educational opportunities for all of our students.
Recently the Iowa City Council created a policy for its new River Crossing District which requires developers to set aside 10 percent of available units for affordable housing for 10 years. Policies such as this are necessary for creating long term solutions to our community’s pockets of poverty. I hope other cities within the Iowa City school district will consider similar policies. Granted, it may take some time for initiatives such as this to reach desired outcomes. However, a busing Band-Aid cannot fix a problem that has been decades in the making.
We know that increased parent participation in their child’s education results in higher student achievement and we should do everything in our power to ensure that all parents are active members of their child’s educational experience. Distancing and disconnecting parents from their child’s education is the opposite of what we as a district should want for our children.
Our democracy depends on every citizen feeling welcomed and valued, and the Iowa City schools can help this become a reality by welcoming every child and parent at the school closest to their home.
• Phil Hemingway is a member of the Iowa City school board. Comments: Phil.Hemingway@iowacityschools.org