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ICCSD responds to racism allegations, community says time for talk is over

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IC school board 11.23

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) - Two new members of the Iowa City Community School District school board were sworn in on Tuesday, and the public made it clear they want equity to be a top priority in the new term.

"We're supposed to trust you to be accountable for these things...but it's not happening," Pastor Anthony Smith said at the meeting.

While many people say racism has long been a problem in the district, the issue was elevated this month when a white student at West High posted a video to social media saying he wanted to stab a Black student in the eye, while using a racial slur.

The high school and district administrators condemned this and said racism has no place in ICCSD, but students say there needs to be action behind those words.

“We just want to be treated as equals. I don’t want any more generations after us as seniors to go through what we’ve experienced," Bernadetta Kariuki said, a leader of one of the Black Student Unions in the district.

ICCSD could not comment on the specific punishment of the student in the racist video from early November, but a parent at Tuesday's meeting said she had heard the student was transferred to another district.

Students say there is a spectrum of intolerance in the schools: like discouraging minority students from taking AP and honors classes, insensitive jokes, playing with Black student's hair, and not trusting BIPOC students when they come to staff with a complaint.

"You, the school board, are currently conditioning and building future Americans. You guys are letting these incidents occur. You're reassuring these people, that I go to school with, will continue to act the way they are acting and think that what they're doing is okay. You guys are building this country...currently...right now," Nisreen Elgaali said, a leader of the West High Black Student Union.

Superintendent Matt Degner provided an update on what the district equity team has done since these concerns resurfaced in early November. Degner outlined some short and long term actions the district plans on taking:

  • Long term actions:
    • Create a clearly-stated policy around hateful, abusive and discriminatory language. 
    • Do administrator and teacher evaluations of how staff are doing with equity issues
    • Use the new ombudsman position to help different student groups
  • Short term actions:
    • Allow students to fill out grievance forms
    • Mandatory training for students and staff on bullying, discrimination and harassment 
    • A presentation to students and staff
    • Have the Black Student Unions meet regularly

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