Des Moines Public Schools Denied Waiver to Begin Fall Semester Online-Only

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Des Moines, Iowa — Des Moines Public Schools officials are promising legal action after their waiver to begin the school year with online-only instruction due to COVID-19 concerns was denied by the Iowa Department of Education.

DMPS announced the waiver denial Friday afternoon. The district had requested to begin the semester with virtual instruction for nearly all students. The waiver application was approved during a special school board meeting on Monday despite the district not meeting minimum requirements for waiver approval.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ administration had set a threshold of 15% average positive rate among those tested for COVID-19 over a two-week span for districts to apply to move to online-only learning. Districts must also have 10% of their students absent due to illness as well. Even then, Governor Reynolds has said those two requirements won’t trigger an automatic approval of a waiver.

Polk County’s average positive rate for the last two weeks stands at 8%, according to the state’s coronavirus website.

Des Moines Public Schools released a statement Friday promising legal action next week in the dispute. Superintendent Tom Ahart says the state continues to ignore the district’s concerns:

“DMPS tried to work closely with the State, including numerous conversations with the Governor and her staff, and the Iowa Department of Education, to develop a plan that meets everyone’s expectations, but unfortunately we are not being provided  the flexibility to do what we need to do to continue the education of our more than 32,000 students and protect the health and safety of our students, staff, their families and our community. The virtual learning proposed by DMPS is not an act of political defiance; it’s about following science as we resume instruction for our students while doing our part to keep our community safe during a time of continuing uncertainty regarding public health.”

Tom Ahart
Superintendent, Des Moines Public Schools

On Wednesday, the Iowa City Community School District and the Iowa State Education Association filed a lawsuit against the state, challenging the Governor’s interpretation of a state law they say should allow more local control during the pandemic.

The Iowa Girl’s High School Athletic Union and the Iowa High School Athletic Association jointly announced that students at schools with online-only learning will not be eligible to participate in athletics. DMPS is disputing this ruling as well. DMPS fall sports pre-seasons are already underway and the football season will begin before classes do.

As of now, DMPS plans to start the Fall semester on Tuesday, September 8th.

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