Iowa City Community School District plans to reduce racial disparities among suspensions

The Iowa City Community School District board highlighted progress in reducing suspensions among elementary school students at a meeting Tuesday, and agreed to make changes to reduce racial disparities among suspensions at all grade levels.


Jake Maish

A sign for the Iowa City Community School District is seen outside the district’s administration building on Tuesday, April 28.

Lillian Poulsen, Senior Reporter

The Iowa City Community School District board is seeking ways to change the suspension decision-making process to reduce racial disparities in the school’s disciplinary actions.

Members of the board presented district behavior data during its Tuesday meeting, which showed an overall decline in the number of referrals and suspensions district wide over the last four years.

According to the Annual Progress Report for the 2020-21 academic year, the number of suspensions for students in kindergarten through sixth grade has reduced since 2018, from 163 out of 7,752 students to 41 out of 7,417 students in 2021.

The report also found, however, that while Black students made up 21 percent of school enrollment, they made up 75 percent of suspensions.

Amy Kortemeyer, Iowa City Community School District deputy superintendent, said the district is working on improving preventative measures and maintaining equity in the classroom.

“Some of our students are hurting, and there’s a lot of hard work being done to prevent these suspensions,” Kortemeyer said. “We are working in a variety of ways to decrease office referrals, and we feel good about the progress we’re making.”

RELATED: Iowa City School District community members protest over racial slurs in student video

Kate Callahan, Iowa City Community School District director of student services, said the district plans to continue learning about different interventions and practices that are more effective and beneficial than suspension.

“We have the authority, but we don’t need to suspend students,” Callahan said. “Instead, we want to take the types of behaviors that are suspendable and work on reducing them.”

One of the behaviors that the district plans on reducing is the use of racial slurs, Callahan said.

“We have taken a strong stance on racial slurs this year,” Callahan said. “That strong stance has included out of school suspensions.”

This statement comes months after a demonstration at West High School in November where students and community members urged the Iowa City school district’s Board of Directors to discipline a student for using racial slurs in a video that was posted on social media.

Board Member J.P. Claussen said the school district needs to continue to work on providing support to students and families that are struggling, as well as challenge the way the district looks at race.

“The data shows that Black students are disproportionately represented in disciplinary action,” Claussen said. “We need to continue to push anti-racist curriculum, and make sure our students feel safe in the classroom.”

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