Two members of the Davenport school board have apologized to their constituents for “dropping the ball” on special education and disproportionality issues in the district.
The apologies, made during Monday night's school board meeting, came after a Nov. 14 meeting with the Iowa State Board of Education, which resulted in the state board’s decision to set a “Phase II visit” for late January or early February.
The district has been under state scrutiny after an audit found the district in “systemic non-compliance” with parts of the federal law that govern the education of students with disabilities, and that it subjected students of color to disciplinary actions at a higher rate than white students.
Interim Superintendent TJ Schneckloth said the state board offered feedback and “next steps” for the district to take.
“Basically, the outcome of that is that they are — rightfully so — not impressed with the progress that we have made on our citations to this point,” he said.
The district will be the largest in Iowa to ever receive a Phase II visit, which will also review general education and finances.
Board members Daniel Gosa and Allison Beck apologized to families.
“I do feel bad for the special ed kids who didn’t get the services they should have gotten,” Gosa said. “ … I hope everything gets corrected, and I will follow that very closely. I apologize for dropping the ball on that, and I will do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen any longer.”
Beck said she had many of the same concerns the state board brought up at the Nov. 14 meeting.
“I think we do owe a lot of our families an apology. Personally, I’d like to say I’m sorry for whatever hand I had in any wrongdoing that has come to our students over the last year,” Beck said via phone call. “I asked a lot of the same questions about special education that the state board of education was asking, and I should have pursued them harder. I should have followed further, instead of just asking the questions and hoping that by asking those the dominoes would start to fall.”
Board member Julie DeSalvo expressed concern the state board suggested “heads will roll.”
“It’s very unfortunate. I feel that there are better ways we probably could have handled this, but we didn’t move swiftly enough for people in the community and for people at the board level, and now here we are,” she said. “ … I would reiterate that the only way we’re going to make this successful and sustainable is to work together to find long-term solutions and stop fighting against each other. We all acknowledge that we’ve done wrong; let’s make this better.”
School Board President Ralph Johanson said the amount of time “top administrators” were spending on these problems was “enormous” and “unbelievable.”
“I think perhaps, the board hasn’t understood some of these things over the last year, and maybe not understood the significance, not understood the sense of urgency,” he said.
Catarina Bolton, a parent who traveled to Des Moines to speak at the Nov. 14 meeting, spoke during the open forum — before Gosa or Beck apologized — saying Davenport’s problems didn’t “start in April” and were “generational.”
“It was really eye-opening to hear a board acknowledge the pain that our kids have gone through, on behalf of the district, and educators and administrators, and that’s something, unfortunately, that we have never had happen here. It’s always been the opposite: telling us we overreact, that we need to be polite, work with the system,” she said. “ … One of the things that has not happened is the acknowledgement of what is going on, what has happened.”
School Board Vice President Linda Hayes said, in particular, problems of disproportionality were “generational,” and required a change in mindset.
“Once we get those mindsets adjusted, we’ll notice changes, but there are people who aren’t there yet,” she said.
“It all comes down to how we treat each other,” board member Clyde Mayfield said, referring to disproportionality. “We don’t like the word ‘racism.’ It just hurts us all to even say it, but racism exists mainly because of people of color being persecuted, and we have all types of racism,” Mayfield said via phone call. “ … We need to talk to those we’re trying to help, to see what they would like to see and what to do.”