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Board's boundary policy shot down

BY GRACE PATERAS | DECEMBER 04, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa City School District officials will have by the end of January to revise their districting policy.

This week, the Iowa Department of Education told school officials that using data from reduced and free-lunch forms to redistrict school lines is not compliant under the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.

“For the past four months, we’ve been back and forth with the School District about them using that list,” said Jeff Berger, deputy director of the division of school finance for the Iowa Department of Education. “We asked the USDA what circumstances that list may be used for, and they confirmed our decision.”

The list of students and families that qualify for the Iowa free or reduced lunches comes from the Education Department application. The School District is the only ones allowed to have access to that information.

“That is a highly protected list,” Berger said. “The only way that list is used for, is to qualify people to receive free and reduced lunch.”

As a School Board, the next step in the process is to meet and discuss future alterations to the diversity policy.

Berger suggested other ways the district can collect data, such as creating its own form and tracking their own censuses. He said the Department of Education is not against the diversity policy, only against the ways they figure socioeconomic statuses from the lunch forms.

“We’ve had all sorts of interest in using this list for other reasons,” Berger said. “But never like this for diversity planning for moving kids around.”

Iowa City district administrators have until the end of January to send a corrected version of the policy plan.

“Short term, there’s no impact with boundaries for next year,” board President Chris Lynch said. “[Future changes consist of] just going forward in creating new boundaries.”

The School Board approved the diversity policy in 2013.

The policy’s goal is to have an equal spread of poverty-status homes in the schools.

“[Free- or reduced-lunch eligibility is] one of the factors used to balance socioeconomic status between schools,” Lynch said. “There are other ways to use census data, like income levels. It’s a challenge measuring with different methods.”

Some parents in the community agree that the schools should be poverty-balanced.

“I think any kind of balance, however they achieve it, is beneficial and necessary,” school parent and volunteer Julie Eisele said. “Right now, there are some [schools] that are lopsided in regard to poverty, which provides challenges to teachers and students. Students in a balanced classroom will have more opportunities and I also think it could help address achievement issues in our district.”


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