Letter to the editor

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All are welcome

Anyone who knows me or has read my positions regarding the need for maintaining “neighborhood schools” can attest to the fact that I have not wavered from this position. This is a core belief I share with many people in the Iowa City School District attendance area, for ALL students, regardless of their race, religion, sexual preference, or socioeconomic standing. In short, the closest school to where the student lives is the school that student should attend.

There are some in our community advocating for a busing policy that in essence imposes quotas on how many of certain subgroups of students should attend any of our district’s amazing schools. Their argument is based on their belief that some students would achieve better outcomes if they were bused, at considerable expense, to schools located far from their homes and neighborhoods.

Students from households living below the poverty line or from groups that have been traditionally marginalized by society face tremendous barriers and stressors in their lives. Transporting them away from their closest schools will not eliminate those barriers and stressors; in fact, it is my opinion that this will actually exacerbate them. Additionally, busing policies such as the one proposed by some would stigmatize young impressionable human beings who are left feeling that they do not belong in a certain school because of some undesirable quality that they possess and that they are not worthy of attending the school nearest their home.

The School District comprises some very diverse neighborhoods, and I propose we celebrate them and invest in the students who live in those neighborhoods by lowering class sizes and putting programming in place that will bridge the district’s well-documented achievement gaps. To me, it comes down to a simple choice between buying buses and diesel fuel or hiring more teachers. Even if one believes that busing students from “failed” or “failing” schools to “successful” schools will lead to better outcomes, we cannot at this point say that any of our schools in the Scholl District are “failed” or “failing”. We cannot simply use metrics established under No Child Left Behind and standardized test scores as barometers of a school’s success or failure. All of our schools face their own unique challenges, and our dedicated teachers and building staff provide top-notch educational opportunities for all of our students.

Recently the Iowa City City Council created a policy for its new River Crossing District that requires developers to set aside 10 percent of available units for affordable housing for 10 years. Policies such as this are necessary for creating long-term solutions to our community’s poverty pockets. I am hopeful that other cities that are members of the School District will consider similar policies. Granted, it may take some time for initiatives such as this to reach desired outcomes. However, a busing Band-Aid cannot fix a problem that has been decades in the making.

We know that increased parent participation in a child’s education results in higher student achievement, and we should do everything in our power to ensure that all parents be active members of their children’s educational experience. Distancing and disconnecting parents from their children’s education is the opposite of what we as a district should want for our children.

    Our democracy depends on every citizen feeling welcomed and valued, and the School District can help this become a reality by recognizing the needs of all our community members and welcoming every child and parent at the school closest to their home.

Phil Hemingway

School Board Member

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