Education

Iowa City school board passes 'historic' boundary changes

New elementary zones will take effect in 2019-20 school year

The Iowa City Community School District Headquarters in Iowa City. (Gazette file photo)
The Iowa City Community School District Headquarters in Iowa City. (Gazette file photo)

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City school board on Tuesday unanimously approved new elementary school boundaries that they praised as an overdue first step toward equitable learning environments for the district’s students of color and those living in poverty.

“After years upon years of discussing it, we remain woefully segregated by income levels and race in many of our schools,” board member Ruthina Malone said. “ ... The proposed boundaries do not go far enough for me, but I recognize that we cannot dismantle decades of segregated learning environments in one fell swoop.”

The redrawing of the Iowa City Community School District’s map will take effect next fall. New boundaries were necessary as the district opens two new elementary schools — Grant in North Liberty and Hoover on American Legion Road in eastern Iowa City — and closes another — Hoover Elementary on Court Street in Iowa City.

Board members said they saw an opportunity in the redistricting process to balance school populations by several factors, including socioeconomic status, race and English language learners. The new boundaries approved Tuesday affect at least a handful of families at each of the district’s elementary schools.

“Multiple past boards have gotten to this point with final maps ... but for various reasons they have walked away, and they have not made districtwide, comprehensive elementary boundary changes,” board member Lori Roetlin said during Tuesday’s meeting. “That is what we’re doing tonight, and I think it is a historic moment for us. While it’s an outcome that not everybody is happy with, I do think it’s something we need to do.”

Several parents spoke out against the boundary changes during the meeting’s public comment period. Poppy Data, whose son attends Borlaug Elementary but was rezoned under the new district maps, called his impending move “a trauma to a delicate mind.”

Board members were steadfast about their rezoning decision and did not discuss changes to Borlaug’s boundary. But they said they would consider a narrow exception — for a small group of families that was rezoned from Horn to Weber Elementary two years ago and, after Tuesday’s decision, would be rezoned again back to Horn.

Language allowing for those transfers is expected to go before the board at a Dec. 11 meeting.

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“I think that what we’re trying to do here as a community is really important and good,” said Jonathan Landon, whose four children, under current policy, would be zoned to different elementary schools than each other. “ ... This grandfathering policy, it slices right through our family. To me, the family ought to be the most fundamental boundary you’re paying attention to.”

Board member JP Claussen withdrew a motion to pass a policy restricting transfers of families like Landon’s who were rezoned as recently as two years ago. Claussen complimented the overall redistricting process, noting he saw “a lot less of that straight-up racism” than he did during a similar school district process a decade ago — though it still was present.

“This boundary, I know for some families this is going to be the biggest thing. For the work that we’re doing, this is the smallest thing that we’re doing. It is our climate, it is our culture — but those things are going to take years and decades,” Claussen said. “We can’t wait. Kids can’t wait. ... Some of our schools are going to be different places next year.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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