The Iowa City school board voted four to three to move ahead with a controversial diversity policy that seeks to balance the population of its schools based on the number of students who qualify for free and reduced price lunches. Parents, teachers and students packed the board room during discussion of the policy Tuesday.
Those in favor of the policy say they are trying to address economic and racial disparities between the schools. Opponents, like Iowa City resident Jason Lewis, say everything is happening too fast. “This is a progressive liberal community and you have community leaders, political leaders, progressive liberals who are at each other’s throats over this, and that should tell you there’s a problem in the process here,” Lewis said.
Supporters of the policy argue it was not a hastily conceived idea, they say it’s just the latest attempt to level the playing field. And some like Dana Grove from Coralville say opponents are practicing a “not in my backyard” form of politics.
“Everyone may be for diversity in theory, but that does mean that everyone is for diversity in practice,” Grove said. “When speaker after speak begins their comments with, ‘I believe in diversity… BUT.'” Some of the comments — like those from Iowa City resident Julie VanDyke — drew hisses and boos .
“All I’ve heard all night, is everybody who stands up here against the policy is wearing hundred and fifty dollar shoes, or their kids are two hundred dollar shoes,” VanDyke said as someone in the audience said “aw come on that is offensive.” “All I’ve heard tonight is wealthy people from schools with low free and reduced lunch numbers tell you how this is moving too fast,” VanDyke continued.
But opponents of the policy — like Renee Laquana — shot back saying the other side was playing the race and class card.
“I really don’t think it is helpful to imply that folks who are against this particular policy are classist, racist, or against Martin Luther King, or any other pejorative term,” Laquana said.
The policy would mandate the district even out the number of kids at each school who are eligible for free and reduced lunches. Right now, schools range from having six-percent of their students enrolled in that program all the way up to 79-percent. Other districts in the state have diversity policies, but they deal mostly with open enrollment.
The board must pass the issue one more time before it becomes part of their policy.