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Iowa Dept. of Education seeks details on Iowa City diversity policy

BY KRISTEN EAST | FEBRUARY 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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Although the diversity policy passed the Iowa City School Board’s final test, the Iowa Department of Education wants more information on how the school district will implement the policy before moving forward.

In a letter sent Monday to Superintendent Steve Murley, the state education department requested that the Iowa City Community School District provide further information about the policy.

“While the [Department of Education] is not opposed to school diversity plans or the use of socioeconomic factors in crafting these plans, we are concerned with the proposed use of free and reduced price status information which could inadvertently identify individual students,” Ann Feilmann, the department’s bureau chief of nutrition and health services, wrote.

The School Board approved the diversity policy on Feb. 5 on a 4-3 vote. The policy seeks to better distribute students who participate in free- and reduced-lunch programs in the district. Furthermore, the policy defines minorities as “students who are receiving free or reduced-price lunches offered under the district’s nutrition program” and the nonminority students as those not receiving them.

In order to prove the legality of the policy on both the state and federal level, School District officials have been asked to provide the Education Department with the following information by March 8:

• Identify names of the staff who will develop the implementation plan.

• Identify the parameters of the “aggregate data” the School District plans to use.

• Identify the step-by-step process that is proposed to implement the plan.

School Superintendent Stephen Murley responded Monday by saying that the School Board and the Education Department will continue to work together.

“The administrative team will now work to operationalize [the diversity policy] through an implementation plan,” he wrote in an email. “The administrative team plans to work closely with the Department of Education to ensure that the plan complies with all appropriate state and federal laws.”

The Education Department initially sent a letter to Murley on Jan. 31 with concerns about the policy, stating that the plan to use free- and reduced-price-meal eligibility data is illegal.

“It’s perfectly fine for school districts to use that data internally, but they cannot use it in a way that potentially identifies students …” Staci Hupp, the department’s director of communication, previously has told The Daily Iowan. “The risk in Iowa City’s proposal was that it uses the data to physically move students to particular schools.”

Though the Iowa City City Council endorsed the policy during its Jan. 22 meeting, City Councilor Connie Champion expressed concerns Monday night about how the district would put the policy into effect.

“I don’t see how it’s going to implement it,” she said. “It’s going to have to move kids. That’s the only way it can do it, so that’s my problem with [the policy].”

City Councilor Susan Mims didn’t want to speak directly about the diversity policy, but she said when the council endorsed the policy, the councilors did not specify how the policy should be implemented.

The Education Department advises that the School District halt all plans to move forward with the diversity policy until after plans are reviewed.

“Until a detailed implementation plan has been provided to the [Department of Education] for review and approval, the School District should not allow access to free- and reduced-price-status information in connection with this diversity plan,” Feilmann wrote.

Metro reporters Brent Griffiths and Nick Hassett contributed to this story.


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