Students to address racial disparity in Iowa City schools

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ICCSD School Board Meeting

Educational Services Building — Tuesday, May 10 at 6 p.m.

A group seeks to explore racial disparities at West High -- photo by Rachel Jessen
A group seeks to explore racial disparities at West High — photo by Rachel Jessen

Although the school year is winding down for Iowa City students, at least one group is planning to make full use of the final school board meeting of the term. At tonight’s meeting, set for 6 p.m. at the Educational Services Building (1725 North Dodge St, Room 142A), a group of students from West High will be reading responses from a questionnaire compiled to address issues of racial disparity at the school.

Iowa City Parents and Students for Equity (ICPSE) recently came together to address the poor treatment of minority students that they saw and experienced at West and at Northwest Junior High, its feeder school. To that end, they developed a brief, informal questionnaire that sought to get at the details of those experiences. Students interviewed their peers about times they had observed or been subject to any different treatment because of race or ethnicity.

The answers paint a distinct enough picture that the group feels it valuable to share their findings with the school board.

In addition to having students read responses, ICPSE plans to ask the school board to require all school staff to have ongoing unconscious bias training. Currently, staff receive limited training as part of the district’s Comprehensive Equity Plan. The group is requesting that this training be expanded to be mandatory and ongoing for all district staff.

West High, one of the top high schools in the state, receives a “commendable” rating on the Iowa School Report Card website. However, the achievement gaps for minority students are stark. White students at the school have a 91.9 percent proficiency rate in reading, for example, compared to 74.4% for Hispanic students and 61.2 percent for black students. The scores in math are comparable. Treatment of students, both inside and outside of the classroom, by teachers and by peers, contributes to those numbers.

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