Amid student concerns, Ames schools reiterate support for various books

The Ames Community School District is working on its definition of educational equity, and some students feared various books would not be included.

Four students from Ames High School’s Students Advocating for Civil Rights Education group expressed concern at Monday’s school board meeting that some books were being removed from school shelves. Her concerns come after extended battles between community members, legislators, schools and libraries across the country and in Iowa over some books, often about LGBTQ people or stories about racial inequality.

Superintendent Julius Lawson said at the meeting he was not aware that any texts had been removed and the students did not name any specific books.

The Ames Community School District later contacted the group for more details.

“These students shared that they were not aware of any specific books that had been pulled from the shelves,” said district spokeswoman Amy DeLashmutt. “Rather, they wanted to express a general concern about what could potentially happen in our schools based on legislation, including House File 802.”

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Governor Kim Reynolds signed the law into law last year. At the time, Reynolds said the new law would address the teaching of critical race theory in Iowa schools. Critical Race Theory examines how the legacy of slavery continues to affect American society.

Groups disagree that the law’s wording, which can ban school districts from teaching from a list of 10 concepts that include ideas like the US or Iowa, is systemically racist.

Still, the law was one of the reasons the Students Advocating for Civil Rights Education, in coordination with other Central Iowa students, organized a strike in April.

DeLashmutt said the district will “continue to assist buildings with all formal accounting challenges” through the process outlined in board policies.

“We appreciate it when students come forward and share concerns with us. When this happens, the district investigates the concerns and takes steps to address them.

“Ames CSD will continue to support diverse books in classrooms while obeying the law,” added DeLashmutt.

Aside from the book concerns, however, senior David Lee said Monday, “Often at Ames High we don’t see ourselves represented in our textbooks, our classroom discussions, and our teachers.”

Lee also said he was concerned about the departure of Anthony Jones, the district’s equity director, and that he hoped representation in the classrooms would improve.

A draft district definition of justice is expected shortly

Since the retirement of the first equity director in late June and the beginning of Lawson’s tenure in July, the district has reviewed its equity work.

Educational justice has been an ongoing issue in the district for years given the persistent differences in performance between groups of students.

Ames High School, Ames Middle School and Sawyer Elementary School have been asked for additional support this year by the Iowa Department of Education and the Heartland Area Education Agency after performance gaps were identified in the state’s latest school performance data released last month .

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At Ames high school and middle school, the state listed performance gaps for students who are black, have disabilities, learn English, are Hispanic, have low socioeconomic status based on eligibility for free or reduced lunches, or are multiracial.

White high school students also had performance gaps. The only group listed by Sawyer were students of low socioeconomic status.

Lawson said there are more Latinx than black students in the district, but they are rarely mentioned in discussions about bridging learning gaps.

And he noted that there is no district-wide staffer responsible for leading mental health efforts.

“We will continue to have academic gaps if we don’t address the socio-emotional needs of students,” Lawson said.

Minutes of the November 2 School Board Equality Committee meeting show that in October, a draft definition of Educational Equity was presented to more than 200 staff members for feedback.

“Defining educational equity will focus faculty, help the district identify how to strive for educational equity in the classroom, and assist teachers in developing classroom practices aimed at minimizing attainment gaps,” the minutes read.

Allen Bierbaum, a member of the school board’s justice committee, said Monday he expects a draft to be presented to the board soon.

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Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune, including Iowa State University and PreK-12 schools in Ames and elsewhere in Story County. Phillip can be reached via email at [email protected] He’s on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.