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ICCSD must revise diversity policy

USDA confirms district cannot use Free/Reduced Lunch data
ICCSD board members Marla Swesey and Jeff McGinness. (Leader file photo)

IOWA CITY- The Iowa City Community School Distirct (ICCSD) received confirmation that it must divorce its diversity policy from Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) data.
Superintendent Stephen Murley told the board last Tuesday that the use violates the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules on what the data can and cannot be used for.
The USDA has given the school district until Jan. 31, 2015, to cease using the data.
The conversation regarding FRL data in the diversity policy has been ongoing since last school year, when the district contacted the Iowa Department of Education with questions. The Department of Education then contacted the USDA on the district’s behalf in June and received a response in November.
Though, the board knew a response like this would be likely, directors still wanted more clarification on the ruling.
Director Jeff McGinness, who is a part of the Policy and Engagement committee tasked with reviewing the diversity policy, wanted to find out what exactly could not be used in regards to the data.
“[There are] questions about if it’s just something we cannot use or…is the concern about identifying specific people?” McGinness said.
Previously, the district had publicized distribution maps showing the FRL data. Those maps have since been taken down.
Director Marla Swesey pointed at other Iowa school districts, including Des Moines, that also use FRL eligibility data in their diversity policies. However, to her knowledge, Des Moines does not publicize that data.
“We maybe went a little overboard in trying to have the community understand what we’re doing because of the maps,” Swesey said.
The district did consider taking legal action against the ruling, though Murley pointed out that the process would likely take over two years.
“To wait two years and sit in limbo would not serve the students of the district,” Murley said.
So far, there have been no decisions on how to revise the diversity policy to be in compliance with the USDA’s ruling, though the topic will be continued at the board’s upcoming Jan. 13 meeting.
One of the concerns brought up by Director Tuyet Dorau was making sure the district does not create “pockets of socio-economic isolation,” she said, and suggested working with both the Iowa Department of Education and Office of Diversity to find ways to prevent continuing or creating these pockets.
Director Orville Townsend recommended looking at how other districts have created diversity policies without using FRL data.
“It’s really no use to reinvent the wheel but maybe we can get something going in that direction,” Townsend said.
Murley also presented more information on the increasing class sizes in several ICCSD schools.
According to data from Oct. 1, 2014, 64 percent of classes at City High fell within the desired class size of 32 students, while West High School fared slightly better at 73 percent.
However, 88 percent of elementary classes are within the ideal range, an achievement Murley attributed to district efforts in staffing and support on this level.
The administration discussed several options for countering this issue at the high schools, such as capping the number of students in some courses, though this could prevent some students from taking the classes if there aren’t enough students to fill a second section.
Murley said most of these decisions are left to building administrators, which raised some concern from board members who felt that too much responsibility was being put on the shoulders of building staff.
Director Patti Fields also worried that the district might find itself unprepared again next year. She felt class size increases would start to affect students academically, especially as core classes continue to grow in size.
Murley said administration does its best to predict how many students will enter the district each year and builds the master schedule accordingly. But sometimes, like this year, those numbers don’t line up and classes get larger.
Murley said he plans to partner with principals to better predict staffing needs so schools are prepared for any unexpected growth; however, once schedules are in place, it becomes difficult to adjust and add more staff.