State: Controversial Iowa City Schools Diversity Plan Would Violate Federal Law

By Gregg Hennigan, Reporter

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By Aaron Hepker

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Iowa Department of Education has determined the Iowa City school district’s controversial diversity policy proposal would violate federal law.

The department informed the district on Thursday that how the plan would use free or reduced-price lunch data would potentially allow students receiving that service to be identified.

That determination does not mean the death of the policy, however, Jeff Berger, the department’s deputy director, said in an interview Friday. He said there are other ways the district could implement the policy and have similar effect. One way is using census data on income instead of free or reduced-price lunch rates, which is a measure for poverty.

Berger said the state’s role is not to approve or deny the plan but rather to ensure its language complies with state and federal laws.

The diversity policy would require schools to be within a certain range of each other in the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch. It also sets capacity requirements on high schools and junior high schools before more secondary schools can be built.

Because students could be moved to a new school based on their free or reduced-price lunch status, they could be identified without parental consent in violation of federal law, Berger said.

The policy has been the subject of intense debate since it was unveiled in December.

The school board is scheduled to hold the final vote on the policy Feb. 5. Emails between Superintendent Stephen Murley and board members Friday suggest they will talk about the matter at a committee meeting Monday morning.

Murley wrote that members of the community contacted the Iowa Department of Education with concerns about the plan.

Murley did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

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