The State Board of Education today set in motion a change in policy to allow school districts to continue to block students from open enrolling out of a district to maintain a minority balance. Board attorney, Carol Greta, says the change takes districts from making open enrollment decisions based on a "desegregation plan" to decisions based on a "diversity plan."

Greta says the change complies with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Seattle case that open enrollment decisions can’t be solely based on race. Gretasays, "Diversity of a student population can be so much more than the racial and ethnic makeup of students, it can be poverty, disability, English language learner, the national origin." She says the past plans looked solely at the minority makeup of districts as defined by race.

Six districts in Iowa: Burlington, Des Moines, Davenport, Waterloo, Postville and West Liberty, most often blocked open enrollment to maintain their minority makeup based on a percentages of race. Gretasays the decisions to block open enrollment were based mainly on preventing "white flight," or white students moving out. She says the new policy allows districts to take a broader look at the issue.

Greta says each district can now define for itself who is a minority student. Greta says the new policy recognizes more the impact that economic status has on a district. Gretasays you shift into looking into using as your definition "socio-economic status" in determining whether a student can leave the district, which is not a protected class and the courts will not look at it under strict scrutiny. She says all you have to do is "enunciate some important state interest" for looking at the socio-economic status and the court has already said that diversity in the K-12 arena is in a state’s interest.

Greta expects the policy change will allow districts to continue ruling on open enrollment in the same way they have in the past. "I think there will be very little practical change that parents, and students and districts will see," Gretasays.

Greta says districts must have minority enrollment that’s 20-percent above the statewide average to qualify to use the plan to block students from leaving. She says Burlington will be dropping out of qualification, while Columbus Community, Denison, Marshalltown and Perry are eligible, but have not used the plan to block open enrollments from the district. The Board of Education will hold a public hearing on the policy change January 8th, as part of the rules process before it will go into effect.