Mother Says DMPS Diversity Policy Keeping Her Bullied Child from Open Enrolling to Johnston

DES MOINES, Iowa - A Des Moines woman claims her daughter is being bullied at her elementary school, and a provision in the district's diversity policy is keeping her from leaving for a school in Johnston.

Kasey Vogel, a single mom, says she moved her daughter, Quincey, to the Des Moines Public Schools system from Bondurant-Farrar this past fall. Her daughter began second grade at Hillis Elementary School, where Vogel says she began showing symptoms of being bullied.

"Quincey told me her stomach hurt and that she didn't feel good, and she didn't want to go to school," Vogel said. "Well, I ended up keeping her home, and I'm not certain we missed school at all last year."

That's when Vogel started asking questions to school officials, and says she learned there were several students in Quincey's class with "behavioral issues." According to Vogel - and through her daughter's accounts - these students would act out, throwing desks or scissors, calling names, or pushing other kids. Vogel says the teacher would have to clear the room multiple days a week to have professionals deal with the children acting out.

"And at first you think your child's exaggerating, like, well, if certainly they're clearing these rooms several times a day I'm going to hear about it from the school," she said.

But Vogel says she never received documentation for any incidents - even when her daughter would go to the nurse's office for being pushed or assaulted by other students. That's when Vogel says she decided enough was enough, and she applied to open enroll Quincey to an elementary school in Johnston. There was only one problem, though.

"I was told point-blank if I was on free and reduced lunch, that I would be able to open enroll in Johnston tomorrow," she said.

It's a complicated issue, but it comes down to this: the state of Iowa requires school districts to have a diversity plan - and it can't be solely based on race. DMPS officials tell Channel 13 the district's diversity policy is based on eligibility for free and reduced-price lunch programs. A certain quota of children who both apply and don't apply must be kept within a school, and because the district had already "released" its maximum number of students to other districts already, they denied Vogel's application to move Quincey out of the district.

"It almost seemed surreal to me, like it was a joke," Vogel said.

DMPS officials say other schools in the district were offered to Vogel for her daughter, but were denied. Vogel has reasons for turning these options down, from poor reviews she read, or the location of the school, which could affect her ability to get to and from work on time, and also her ability to get her daughter to and from school on time. There is an exception to school district diversity plans, however: bullying and/or harassment.

The state says a school must acknowledge bullying/harassment has taken place, but a spokesperson for the school district says there is not history of bullying with Quincey.

"This is not a witch hunt on my part for Des Moines Public, I feel like I've taken every step and plead for them to even acknowledge me," she said. "But I haven't even had acknowledgment that this is even concerning to them."

District officials dispute that claim and say the principal at Quincey's school has met with her mother several times on the issue and registration employees have done so as well.

Vogel plans to make her case to the school board at its meeting on Tuesday, October 18. The board will vote on its decision there.