J. B. Young Opportunity Center main entrance is shown Jan. 15, at 1702 N. Main Street in Davenport.

Vanessa Woelfel, says her family "bleeds red and blue" but her daughter had to leave a disruptive Davenport classroom and a district that failed to address the problems.

Woelfel was one of two parents who spoke to the Davenport School Board about their requests to open enroll their children in other districts. During the meeting, the school board denied 13 students from 10 families the ability to open enroll outside the district, citing its diversity plan.

“We have wanted Addison to go through Davenport schools — my entire family bleeds red and blue — but I will not allow her academics and personal growth to be hurt because of what was happening in the schools,” said Woelfel, a Davenport graduate who said generations of her family went to Davenport. “Davenport Community Schools failed to provide my daughter a safe, happy, calm learning environment.”

Woelfel said her daughter’s principal wouldn’t let her out of a “disruptive” classroom, and former Superintendent Art Tate would not allow a transfer to another elementary school within the district. Tate said she’d meet with Associate Superintendent Bill Schneden, Woelfel said, but the meeting never occurred. The family ultimately transferred Addison to a private school and was seeking a waiver to enroll her in a Bettendorf school.

“It wasn’t just one event, it was multiple things happening in the classroom that weren’t addressed: disruptions, interruptions, kids screaming on the floor, on the tables,” Woelfel said.

Parent Jason Smith said he wanted to open enroll his children in Bettendorf because one wasn’t receiving the reading intervention services he deemed necessary.

“We need a school that has adequate resources so that he does not continue to fall behind,” he said. 

Davenport is one of five Iowa districts with a diversity plan, created to maintain the balance between students from lower- and higher-income families. The goal is to attempt to grant approvals for students on free or reduced lunch, or who get fee waivers, with the same number of similar applications to enter the district.

The administration’s recommendation to deny the appeals was unanimously approved by the board; Director Clyde Mayfield was not present to vote, and Director Allison Beck abstained because she knew two of the families personally. But some showed hesitation.

“I personally feel as parents, we know what’s best for our children, and we should have the right to send them anywhere. Unfortunately, we have to deny, due to not meeting the criteria laid out in our policy,” said Vice President Linda Hayes.

Director Julie DeSalvo hesitated when called to vote, but denied the requests.

“After having read all of these letters, I’d hope that administration would take some of these comments and talk to these families,” DeSalvo said. “… We heard from several parents tonight that follow-up was not presented as should have been.”

“It’s clear that parents requested assistance and didn’t get it, and I hope we never have to hear that again," Beck said.

Seven of the 10 families requested a move to Bettendorf; one to North Scott, and two to Iowa Virtual Academy.

In 2018, a bill in the Iowa Legislature would have eliminated diversity as grounds for denying open enrollment requests. It failed to advance.

Davenport denied 109 requests to leave the district in 2018, all based on the diversity plan; 16 requests were approved.