Iowa City school board taking steps to address racial inequality

Curriculum under review, as is law enforcement patrolling of school campuses

Community members gather on the Pentacrest at the University of Iowa on June 20 during a Juneteenth Celebration in Iowa
Community members gather on the Pentacrest at the University of Iowa on June 20 during a Juneteenth Celebration in Iowa City. The Iowa City Community school board is meeting with its Equity Committee on equity and diversity recommendations. (Nick Rohlman/freelance)

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Community School District will be reviewing having police officers on campus as it takes steps to address racial equity in the district.

The district also will audit its curriculum to ensure it is without bias and it also will create a plan to recruit and retain teachers and administrators of color.

The school board met with the district’s Equity Committee in a work session Tuesday night to discuss how the district can respond to Black Lives Matter demands made by the Iowa Freedom Riders.

The group shared the demands with the school board earlier this month. Topics include cutting ties with Johnson County law enforcement, reviewing the referral process to alternative schools and rewriting discipline protocol to be free of language that targets students of color.

The demands were a “launching point” for a letter penned by the Equity Committee to the school board, which outlined recommended actions toward disavowing racism, hate and discrimination, said Rebekah Tilley, an Equity Committee member.

Among the Equity Committee’s recommendations:

• Retain an Equity Program Facility position, which has been a critical part of developing and implementing a diversity, equity and inclusion plan.

• Law enforcement officers should not routinely patrol school grounds or come onto grounds except by request.


• Remove racist instructional materials from classrooms and add proactive anti-racist curriculum at all grade levels.

• Increase funding for school counselors and social workers.

• Track retention rates of teachers and administrators of color.

Policing Schools

While the Equity Committee is “appreciative” of the school board’s previous vote to not fund school resource officers in school buildings, the committee wants the board to agree that any decision to add school resource officers in the future would need approval from a super majority of the board.

Even without school resource officers in buildings, officers regularly patrol school grounds, an issue for some students of color, Tilley said.

“It doesn’t create a welcoming environment and culture for a number of students,” Tilley told The Gazette. “It doesn’t mean we can’t make that phone call if there’s a reason we need police presence, but it shouldn’t be casually patrolling those areas.”

Anti-Racist Curriculum

Tilley said the district needs a “robust equity review process” when it comes to curriculum.

A unit in the fifth-grade textbook is no longer in use because of the “problematic representation of slavery” it presented, said Tilley, who chaired the Lucas Elementary PTO Racial Climate Subcommittee before joining the Equity Committee this year.

Caroline Barker, a student on the Equity Committee, said anti-racist teaching can be added to history curriculum in the high schools as well.

Assistant Superintendent Amy Kortemeyer said the scheduled review of course curricula was put on hold because of budgetary constraints.

Social studies curriculum is scheduled to be reviewed in two years, Kortemeyer said, adding, “We’ve gone behind the scenes to see what financial impact it would have to be switched around.”

Budgetary restrictions

“I feel quite frustrated by (budgetary restrictions),” Tilley said. “I guess this is just the challenge of discontinued investment of K-12 education in the state of Iowa. I don’t want to make that an excuse for not doing the right thing, but it reminds me of the horrible choice we have right now between sending our kids to a fully online version of school or this unknown hybrid model. Neither choice is great.”


No action was taken during the work session, and the board plans to continue the discussion at a board retreat next month.

Jayne Finch, chairwoman of the Equity Committee, told The Gazette she believed the meeting with the school board was productive.

“I think Matt Degner (the interim superintendent) said it best that we need to get the culture right,” Finch said. “If we can get the culture right, where everyone in the school district — staff, students and teachers — all feel supported, then the achievement gap, the disparities in discipline, it will all follow from there.”

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