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Packed agenda keeps ICCSD school board members late at December 10 meeting

By Alex Kline
North Liberty Leader
IOWA CITY– Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) school board members worked late into the night at their Dec. 10 meeting. The packed agenda included decisions on delay of implementation of the Raptor Visitor system, approval of the master facilities plan, and a request of information on the logistics of canceling school on Martin Luther King Day.
The board acted to delay the implementation of the Raptor Visitor System, which would require the presentation of adequate identification to enter an Iowa City school. The system’s goal would be to prevent registered sex offenders from entering Iowa City schools.
Many members of the community spoke about their concerns about families that did not have proper identification and how that would affect their involvement with their children’s school.
Board member Patti Fields moved to delay the implementation until the new system was discussed with student-family advocates employed with the school and provide information to the community.
“I don’t think we did a good job talking about this or talking with communities,” said Fields. “This is not a good time to be educating people about a new system to be implemented after the holidays. I just don’t understand why this would be something that we rush into to do that and to do that not well. It just seems like another thing that would not be beneficial for families, period.”
While most board members believed the Raptor system would be a valuable safety tool, they agreed that rollout would be unsuccessful without engaging the community with more specific answers as to how the system would work.
“My thought on this is I think it’s important absolutely to adopt a communication plan and to dispel all the misinformation about access information to the community as to what it means and what it is,” said board member Jeff McGinness. “To say that there’s no reason to implement I think isn’t necessarily accurate, a quick search shows that there are 91 reasons to implement because there are 91 sex offenders in our community right now. All it takes is one.”
The decision to delay the system drew applause from the audience, some of which had waited five hours to hear the outcome.
It wasn’t until midnight that the Iowa City community school board acted on the new facilities master plan that was updated at the Nov. 26 work session.
Six of the seven board members moved to approve the 10-year plan. Tuyet Dorau, who participated in parts of the meeting via Skype, gave the only opposing vote.
“I think it’s time for this to really to be the communities plan,” said board member Chris Lynch. “I am now convinced that this is a good base plan to accelerate from.”
The latest version of the plan accelerated the construction of a new elementary school in the north part of the district by a year. The changes call for the elementary school to be open by 2019 so that it could be used as a transitory school for Mann and Lincoln students to cycle through.
Renovations on Lincoln would also be fast-tracked.
The plan also calls for the closing of Hoover elementary in 2019.
One community member presented the board with a petition signed by 860 people to keep all of the Iowa City schools open.
The board discussed the closing of the school in depth at last month’s work session, but ultimately decided that keeping Hoover open was too costly and wouldn’t help the district make progress.
“I’m open to options on Hoover, but I think it’s time to agree to this plan and agree to the annual review,” said Lynch. “I do think there’s people out there that are not engaged at all that support neighborhood schools that would like better rationale.”
The board also voted to seek information about the logistics of not having school on Martin Luther King Day.
A presentation to the board members showed the activities that the Iowa City schools had planned for Jan. 20, 2014 in order to honor King’s birthday. Many community members spoke of their concern with the lack of community engagement on this issue and the historical precedent this would set.
Changing the calendar at this point would require a public hearing, and possibly an emergency board meeting. With the federal holiday only a week away from the next board meeting, board members moved to request more information from superintendent Stephen Murley on the feasibility of canceling that day of school and moving the planned activities to another date.