Cultural Diversity & Equity

April 2021 Newsletter

In This Issue

  1. Diversity Department Updates
  2. Shout-out to our Students
  3. Shout-out to our Teachers
  4. Autism Acceptance Month
  5. Arab-American Heritage Month
  6. Tartan Day
  7. Earth Day
  8. Upcoming Events
  9. Commemorative Observances
  10. Happy Holidays!
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Message of Support for Our Community

Dear Families and Staff,

Our District stands with those speaking out against and condemning the physical violence and verbal abuse directed at the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. As a District, it is important to use our voice, our actions, and our resources to ensure all lives are treated with respect and love.

Please know that we are thinking of you and that you are not alone in this moment. We all deserve to be safe and secure. This District will not tolerate racism, hate, and other discriminatory acts. As a community, we remain committed to being an active participant in the fight for equality and the end of all forms of racism. We are here and would encourage you to reach out if there is any way we can assist you. Below you will also find links to resources that are available for our staff and our community. #ICCSDtogether

Synchrony Employee Assistance Program

Crime Victim Assistance Programs - Information & Support

CommUnity Crisis Services - Free, Non-judgmental Emotional Support 24/7

National Mental Health Resources - Free, Quick-access Hotlines for Support

COVID Recovery Iowa - Free Counseling & Support for all Iowans


Matt Degner
Iowa City Community School District

Welcome Taj Suleyman!

We'd like to give a warm welcome to Taj Suleyman who has accepted the Ombudsperson position within our district! We are very excited for Taj to join our ICCSD family and continue our important work of supporting our students and families.

The Ombudsperson position was created to protect against abuse, bias, and other improper treatment of anyone in the school district community. The ombudsperson is an advocate for fairness who acts as a source of information and referral, and aids in answering questions, and assisting in the resolution of critical situations. In considering any given instance or concern, the rights of all involved parties are taken into account. This office supplements, but does not replace, the school district’s existing resources for conflict resolution.

We know that Taj will do amazing things in our district, and we feel very lucky that he has joined our team!

Supporting students during Ramadan

This is a reminder to our district that many of our students and staff will be celebrating and participating in Ramadan this month. Ramadan will begin on April 13th, and for some of our Muslim community, this means that there will be fasting.

Students who plan to fast through Ramadan will not be eating or drinking during the school day, and we want to do whatever we can to make this easier and help our students feel supported during this holiday.

One of the most important things you can do is have an understanding and appreciation for our student's cultures and diversity. Gestures like making a comfortable space for Muslim students during lunch, understanding there may be limitations during physical education classes, or simply taking an interest in your student's practices which may be different than your own are very helpful and will make a big difference!

To learn more about how you can support your students, click here.

Closed Captioning and Live Transcription in Zoom

In the last year, whether we wanted to or not, we've all become more familiar with Zoom. From online class time to committee and school board meetings, we've relied upon this software to connect us.

Because Zoom has become an essential part of some of our days, we'd like to point out some of their accessibility features that can help you be more inclusive in your meetings and webinars. Zoom now provides closed captioning and live transcription for those with Pro, Business, Education, Enterprise accounts. (ICCSD staff using their work accounts will have access to this feature)

This tool is helpful for everyone, not just for those who are hearing impaired. In fact, there have been studies to show that closed captioning increases the comprehension of, attention to, and memory of a video.

Click here to see full instructions about how to set up this feature for your meetings. You can also watch the video below for more information!

Things to note:

  1. Captions will pick up on anyone talking, so taking turns and muting yourself when someone else is speaking is very important.
  2. Captions are not always perfect, so try to speak in a clear, even tone to help the software pick up on your words.
Closed Caption

Important update from the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council

This month we are hearing directly from West High Senior, Paras Bassuk, about the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council, and what they've been working on this year!

Paras and several other ICCSD students belong to the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council which advocates for policy changes to make schools safer and more culturally responsive places!

We thought we'd let Paras explain this important work in their own words. Here is a message from Paras:

The past month I have been working on a variety of Legislative Advocacy initiatives surrounding Equity.

(Please note in the blurb that this description does not reflect the official will of the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council or the Iowa Department of Human Rights)

Lulu Roarick, Soomin Koh, and I are all a part of the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council that acts as a body of Youth who communicate with the Governor and State Legislature about Youth issues. I am the chair of the SIYAC Education Committee and we wrote a position statement on equitable education standards that was sponsored and put forth as a bill Senate FIle 248 in the Iowa Senate by Sen. Joe Bolkcom. This bill would add cultural responsiveness training and restorative justice training to teaching licensure requirements, and added equitability and representativeness requirements to curriculum standards. Our bill did not make it through the First Funnel in the Iowa Legislature, but we are proud to have started a conversation about Education Equity at the state level.

Last month I founded the Iowa Youth Advocacy Network which aims to provide training and access to resources for youth across Iowa who are interested in Legislative Advocacy. This year, a variety of anti-LGBTQ+ bills were proposed in the Iowa Legislature and I was able to speak out against them at several Senate Subcommittee Hearings alongside other community members in defense of LGBTQ+ Youth rights. I was often the only student that attended these meetings, and I noticed that my voice stood out as a new perspective in the usual Legislative discussion.

The Iowa Youth Advocacy Network is an all-inclusive empowerment resource for Youth in Iowa to have their voices heard. There are already over 40 youth from across the state involved and many from the ICCSD! Here is the Advocacy landing page from the IYAN website that I made:

Professional Development Opportunity 4/26

We'd like to highlight a really awesome training that is coming up on the 26th:

The Intersection of Race, Mental Health and School to Prison Pipeline: Punching the Air

Throughout childhood and adolescence, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), especially those who are neurodiverse or have mental disorders, are disproportionately impacted by involvement with the criminal legal system in the United States. Ableism and institutionalized racism contribute to the overuse of restraint and seclusion at school and facilitate the school-to-prison pipeline. During this presentation, participants will examine the impact of bias on decisions made in the classroom. Alternatives to compliance-based, punitive, and exclusionary discipline will be explored.

Shout-out to our Students!

This month we'd like to give a big shout-out to West High's Aashika Gadkari!

Aashika has been BUSY during this last year and didn't let the pandemic keep her from following her dreams. In September 2020, she decided at only 16 years of age to start her own business making cupcakes. iCake started right in her family's kitchen and is becoming more successful every day.

It's not every day that a junior in high school decides to become an entrepreneur, and we couldn't be more impressed! Not only does Aashika provide delicious treats, but she is also honoring frontline workers fighting Covid-19 by donating her cupcakes to them.

In fact, as much as 20% of iCake's sales go to local charities.

Keep up the good work Aashika! You are awesome!

Click here to check out her Facebook page!

*If you know of a student that deserves a shout-out, reach out and let us know!

Shout-out to our Teachers!

This month we are excited to highlight Tate High School and Online Academy's Mandy Duffey!

Mandy teaches Science and last month she decided to get creative to teach her students about important women in the field. As she did for Black History Month, Mandy continues to create engaging lessons for her students and allows them the flexibility to learn about important topics of diversity, all while having a blast in Science.

For women's history month, students worked in groups to provide a stellar presentation, featuring female scientists' work in their own words. Students got to pick from four different sub-fields of science; Life Science, Physical and Chemical Science, Earth and Climate Science, and Engineering. They then learned about amazing women who changed the world!

Keep up the good work Mandy! We appreciate you!

*If you know of a teacher or ICCSD staff member that deserves a shout-out, reach out and let us know!

Autism Acceptance Month
*In a previous version of this newsletter, we used a graphic for Autism Acceptance Month that depicted puzzle pieces. It has been brought to our attention that puzzle pieces have been used by groups to depict autistic and neurodivergent individuals negatively. The Autistic community prefers either the gold infinity symbol for autism or the rainbow infinity symbol for neurodiversity to represent them. We have removed our previous image and will use the preferred symbols moving forward. To learn more about this issue, click here and click here.

In 2010, the number of identified and diagnosed children with autism was 1 in 125, and by 2020 this number has increased to 1 in 54. We want to celebrate all of our students, families, and parents who are neurodivergent this month, and promote love and acceptance in our schools.

Acceptance vs. Awareness

Some have probably heard of Autism Awareness rather than acceptance. So what is the difference between Acceptance vs Awareness, and why are we changing our language surrounding this month?

When activists in the autism and neurodivergent community were first advocating for a national month to celebrate, Autism was often framed as a "Problem" by society. Awareness sometimes frames Autism as a problem to be "fixed" in children, and can sometimes use dangerous stereotypes that don't accurately represent the diversity for which it is advocating. Awareness is surface level, and as a culture, we need to move past this to full acceptance.

Acceptance is about having an understanding of diversity, and the individual experiences and prejudices that affect autistic people in our society. We will sometimes need to confront uncomfortable truths and change our behavior and systems to create environments for our Autistic and neurodivergent students to thrive.

Acceptance is work, but it is worth the effort!

Strategies to help our students

Many autistic people have trouble recognizing tone. With our increasing communication via email/text here are some helpful tone indicators that you can incorporate into your day-to-day communication to help our neurodivergent individuals and cut down on miscommunications. Educators can provide a "Key" or a vocabulary resource for their class to show that these will be the tone indicators you will be using going forward.

Tone Indicators:

  • /j = joking
  • /hj = half joking
  • /s or /sarc = sarcastic/sarcasm
  • /srs = serious
  • /nsrs = not serious
  • /ref = reference
  • /nm = not mad
  • /ot = off topic
  • /q = quote
  • /m = metaphor/metaphorically
  • /rt = retorical question
  • /pc or /pos = positive connotation
  • /nc or /neg = negative connotation
  • /neu = neutral connotation

Try these out in your classroom to see what is and is not helpful to your neurodivergent students!

Photo text reads:" April is Arab American Heritage Month
April is designated as Arab American Heritage Month and this year is very exciting because, for the first time, the United States Department of State is officially recognizing this month as a national observance!

Click here or watch the video below to view the official statement from the Department of State.

Arab American Heritage Month is a celebration that highlights the histories, achievements, and cultures of Arab Americans and people who are of Arab descent. We'd like to lift up our Arab American students, families and staff this month and EVERY month as a integral part of our community.

US State Department celebrates Arab-American Heritage Month

Arab American Stories

For those looking for resources to celebrate Arab American heritage, Detroit Public Television has created an Emmy Award-Winning 13-part series that explores the diversity of the Arab American Experience.

Click here to take a look at the resources for this series!

An awesome thing about this series is that for each episode, there are accompanying curriculum and lesson plans to implement in your classroom!

For Educators

Watch Episode 1 below!
Arab American Stories - Episode 101

National Tartan Day

Did you know that April 6th is National Tartan Day where we celebrate Scottish-Americans?

In 1998, a Coalition of Scottish Americans with the support of Senator Trent Lott successfully lobbied the Senate for the designation of April 6 as National Tartan Day "to recognize the outstanding achievements and contributions made by Scottish Americans to the United States".

Today there are around 6 million Americans that claim Scottish descent! And of the 13 governors of the newly established United States, did you know that NINE were Scottish? Some scholars even say that of the 56 signatures on the Declaration of Independence, nearly a third are of those of Scottish descent!

Click the button below to check out more about Scottish heritage!

Happy Earth Day!

April 22nd is Earth Day when we support environmental protection! This day was first held in 1970 and now it is a holiday that is celebrated all over the world! Our students have shown a lot of passion for our planet, and have advocated for the Iowa City School District to reduce our carbon footprint and become greener!

The district took this to heart, and in March our Director of Facilities stated that we've reduced our carbon footprint by 48%, nine years ahead of schedule for our 10-year plan! Wow!

Click here to read The Gazette article to learn more!

Check out the links below to find cool ways to celebrate Earth Day in your classroom!

Month of the Military Child

April is designated as the Month of the Military Child. This is a time to celebrate our military families and their children, and honor their sacrifices and bravery while serving our country.

We thank all our parents, students, and community members who have served, are serving, or have family members that serve. Your work is so important and we appreciate you all!

Upcoming Events


Thursday, April 1st, 1-2pm

This is an online event.



Health and health care are critical issues for autistic individuals and can be highly complex. Autistic people often have multiple physical and mental health concerns, frequently see specialists, and use multiple medications. Unfortunately, the current healthcare system often fails to adequately address the needs of people on the spectrum. As a result, there is more frequent need for emergency health care and hospitalization and frequent unmet needs. We must understand health and healthcare needs across the life course so that recommendations can be made about how to improve health and health care at critical points in a person’s life.

This webinar presents findings from the recent National Autism Indicators Report: Health and Health Care. This report, the sixth in the National Autism Indicators Report Series produced from the Life Course Outcomes Research Program area at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, reports indicators of health and health care for autistic people across the lifespan. Topics covered include overall health, health services, medication, insurance, and accessing services. The report combines data from two national surveys about health, one national sample of hospital inpatient stays, and previously published findings from Kaiser Permanente Northern California patient records.

Findings highlight that autistic people have many healthcare needs that are not adequately addressed and needs for non-physical health concerns such as mental health and specialty care are more often unmet. The report also highlights the racial and ethnic disparities that persist in health and health care in the US. Specific concern arises around health care transition, with low access to health care transition for youth and limited availability of adult health care providers with autism knowledge. The purpose of this report is to catalogue indicators to aid in decision making that improves the quality of care and quality of life of autistic persons.

Click Here to register!

2021 Autism Awareness Interagency Roundtable

Friday, April 2nd, 1:30-3pm

This is an online event.

The Indian Health Service is hosting the third annual Autism Awareness Interagency Roundtable in observance of World Autism Awareness Day, April 2, 2021.

We have invited various agencies to this event to share their autism spectrum disorder (ASD) policies and how each aims to maximize the quality of life of those with ASD. Federal officials and Autism Speaks will discuss recent collaborations, important resources for those with ASD, the impact of COVID-19 on services, and hold a Q&A session.

Sign up on IHS Autism Awareness Interagency Roundtable registration page.

2021 Autism Awareness Interagency Roundtable Agenda

Attendance is free and virtual; registration is required . Please use an up-to-date browser, such as Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Mozilla Firefox when joining the conference through the link below.

Who Should Attend: Providers, Health Care Staff, Health Organizations, Tribal Leaders, Educators, Community Members, Family Members

If you have any questions, please email Dr. Marcy Ronyak.

Racialized Trauma in the Classroom - Part I

Tuesday, April 13th, 5-6:30pm

This is an online event.

Tuesday, April 13, 5:00 - 6:30 p.m.,
Online Workshop (Zoom)

Please register online. TLC Credit: Traditional

Click to access the BTLC Zoom Meeting Room to attend this workshop.

Presenter: Dr. Stephanie Jones, Grinnell College

This session will provide an overview of racialized trauma in the classroom and its impact on Black and Brown students. Participants in this session will discuss how racialized trauma appears in school spaces, how it is supported by school policy and practice, and how students reconcile racialized trauma as part of their school experience.

Educators who register for and attend all 9 sessions in the series will earn one free teacher license renewal credit! Register here for the credit.

Anti-Racism Professional Educator Webinar Series Page

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact the Baker Teacher Leader Center, 319-335-5623, in advance.

Alignment and Integration of RP and SEL

Wednesday, April 21st, 10-11:30am

This is an online event.

Please join the Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports for a webinar on the Alignment and Integration of Restorative Practice and SEL on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 at 11 am ET (8 am PT). Schools across the country are tasked with installing multiple initiatives to address the social-emotional-behavioral (SEB) needs of their students. These initiatives include, but are not limited to, social-emotional learning, trauma-informed care, restorative practices, school safety, and suicide prevention.This session will provide an overview of how to align and integrate initiatives, such as those mentioned above. Exmaples, tools, and resources will be shared, specfically to address restorative practices and SEL.

Click Here to Register

STORYTELLERS: KATIE COLLETTA Youth Storytelling Workshop

Saturday, April 24th, 10am-12pm

This is an online event.

Your voice matters! Together with instructor Katie Colletta, we will explore YOUR unique point of view, get our creative juices flowing with interactive games, and explore creative ways to bring our stories to life both on the page and on the stage!

$5 – $25

Online Event

Click Here to buy tickets

About the Instructor

Originally from Rockton, Illinois, Katie earned her BFA in Musical Theatre from Millikin University, Certificate in Diversity and Inclusion from Cornell University, and is pursuing her Masters in Arts Administration from the University of Kentucky. Katie currently serves Riverside Theatre in their Development department, and she made her artistic home at Old Creamery Theatre in Amana for the last eight years as a resident Equity actor, choreographer, director, administrator, and teaching artist. In 2019/2020, Katie had the honor of serving Iowa City as Artist in Residence for the Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child program, and she has taught extensively with companies such as Indiana Repertory Theatre, Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre, Eastern Iowa Arts Academy, and Young Footliters. Favorite roles onstage include Sophie in Mamma Mia, Ariel in Footloose, and Fern in Charlotte’s Web. Let’s play!

The intersection of race, mental health, and the school-to-prison pipeline: Punching the Air

Monday, April 26th, 5-6pm

This is an online event.

Abstract: Throughout childhood and adolescence, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), especially those who are neurodiverse or have mental disorders, are disproportionately impacted by involvement with the criminal legal system in the United States. Ableism and institutionalized racism contribute to the overuse of restraint and seclusion at school and facilitate the school-to-prison pipeline. During this presentation, participants will examine the impact of bias on decisions made in the classroom. Alternatives to compliance-based, punitive, and exclusionary discipline will be explored.

Heidi Pierce (she/her/hers) earned an M.S. with co-majors in psychology and neuroscience from Iowa State University. She earned an M.A. in criminal justice from Mount Mercy University. Heidi is a Psychology Professor and 2020-21 Endowed Chair Recipient at Kirkwood Community College. Her current scholarship focuses on the intersection of race, mental health, and the school-to-prison pipeline. Heidi also teaches for the University of Iowa Liberal Arts Beyond Bars, a college in prison program in Coralville, Iowa. Heidi is a member of the Iowa City Community School District Equity Advisory Committee. She advocates for disability rights and criminal justice reform.

Dr. Dionne Bensonsmith (she/her/hers) earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. A transdisciplinary scholar of public policy Black Feminist Theory and Gender Studies. Her work is informed by personal experiences as Black woman and parenting boys with ADHD. Dionne is the co/founder of Mothers on the Frontline and the co-creator of the Mothers on the Frontline, Children’s Mental Health Justice Framework. She currently resides in Southern California where she teaches in the Applied Gender Studies Program at the Claremont Graduate University.

Tammy Nyden (she, her, hers) is a co-founder & co-director of Mothers on the Frontline a philosophy professor at Grinnell College, a mother of two, and a children’s mental health advocate. She teaches courses on the School-to-Prison Pipeline and Epistemic Injustice. Her current scholarship focuses on the philosophical history and grounding of current systemic and structural injustices harming children’s mental health. She is collaborating with Dionne Bensonsmith and Angela Riccio to create a Children’s Mental Health Justice Framework to dismantle and resist those harmful legacies of stigma and bias.

Commemorative Observances

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This year we will acknowledge the various diverse cultures that are celebrated throughout the year. We understand that our calendar may not be all-inclusive, so if you are aware of any cultural holidays or months of observance that we should know about, feel free to reach out and let us know.

African American History Month (February)
National African American History Month in February celebrates the contributions that African Americans have made to American history in their struggles for freedom and equality and deepens our understanding of our Nation's history.

Women's History Month (March)
Women’s History Month honors and celebrates the struggles and achievements of American women throughout the history of the United States.

Irish-American Heritage Month (March)
Irish-American Heritage Month is a month to celebrate the contributions which Irish-Americans have made to the United States.

Jewish American Heritage Month (May)
Jewish American Heritage Month is a month to celebrate the contributions Jewish Americans have made to America since they first arrived in New Amsterdam in 1654.

Asian Pacific Heritage Month (May)

Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month is a month to celebrate the contributions Asian/Pacific Americans have made to American history, society and culture.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride Month (June)

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride Month commemorates the events of June 1969 and works to achieve equal justice and equal opportunity for LGBTQ Americans.

National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 - October 15)

National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates and recognizes the contributions Hispanic Americans have made to American society and culture and honors five of our Central American neighbors who celebrate their Independence days in September.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (October)
National Disability Employment Awareness Month celebrates the accomplishments in the workplace of persons with disabilities and reaffirms the commitment to ensuring equal employment opportunities to all citizens.

American Indian Heritage Month (November)
National American Indian Heritage Month celebrates and recognizes the accomplishments of the peoples who were the original inhabitants, explorers and settlers of the United States.

By Month

Happy Holidays!

We'd love to give a big shout out to all the holidays happening in April! If you celebrate any of these, we hope that you have an amazing day for yourself and your families!

  • Maundy (Holy) Thursday - Thursday, April 1st
  • Good Friday - Friday, April 2nd
  • Ramanavami - Friday, April 2nd
  • Last day of Passover - Saturday, April 3rd
  • Easter - Sunday, April 4th
  • Yom Hashoah - Thursday, April 8th
  • Hindi New Year - Monday, April 12th
  • Ugadi/Gudi Padwa/Telugu New Year - Tuesday, April 12th
  • Ramadan Begins - Tuesday, April 13th
  • Vaishkhi/Baisakhi/Vishu - Wednesday, April 14th
  • Yom HaZikaron - Wednesday, April 14th
  • Tamil New Year - Wednesday, April 14th
  • Bengali New Year/Bihu - Thursday, April 15th
  • Yom HaAtzma'ut - Thursday April 15th
  • Birthday of Guru Angad Dev - Sunday, April 18th
  • First Day of Ridván - Tuesday, April 20th
  • St. George's Day - Friday, April 23rd
  • Second Passover - Monday, April 26th
  • Hanuman Jayanti - Tuesday, April 27th
  • Ninth Day of Ridván - Wednesday, April 28th
  • Lag BaOmer - Friday, April 30th

Who is in the Equity and Diversity Department?

About Us

Non-Discrimination Policy

It is the policy of the Iowa City Community School District not to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, creed, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and socioeconomic status in its educational programs, activities, or employment practices. There is a grievance procedure for processing complaints of discrimination. If you have questions or a grievance related to this policy, please contact Jeremy Tabor, Director of Equity & Employee Relations