Iowa City schools to see key changes geared toward improving inclusion

Major changes are coming to Iowa City's schools.

Leaders with the Iowa City Schools have always considered the district one of the most progressive in the state.

That's why in 2016, they formed a partnership with the University of Iowa Public Policy Center to evaluate student experiences in schools.

The 2016 student climate survey revealed major disparities along racial lines, but neglected a key population group, something the 2017 survey addressed.

"We asked for the first time non-binary gender-identifying information and also whether or not students were gay, lesbian or bisexual," said Sarah Bruch, the director of the Public Policy Center.

From those questions came concerning answers for the director of equity in the district.

"We were able to identify some glaring disparities within our data, especially in regards to our LGBTQ students," said Kingsley Botchway.

Seventy percent of non-binary students reported feeling unsafe in class.

Eighty-six percent reported classmates making hurtful comments, with leaders concluding changes were necessary.

"Before we make any recommendations, we want to make sure that a lot of voices and perspectives are heard," said Bruch, "and that all stakeholders are involved in the decision-making."

As a result of the survey, district officials sought input from community members, eventually creating a task force to determine the best approaches for addressing and improving the school environment.

The task force came up with five key recommendations:

1) Support students through adult advocates.

2) Enhance inclusivity of class materials and updated curricula.

3) Improve educator knowledge and skills by offering LGBTQ-specific training

4) Creative inclusive environments by establishing gender inclusive bathrooms in every school.

5) Strengthen district policies and practices to encompass all students.

Botchway said students have been on board, but admits receiving public push-back, particularly as it relates to bathrooms.

The recommendations, Botchway said, are aimed at putting student safety above all else.

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