Des Moines Schools Denied Injunction in Online Learning Lawsuit

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DES MOINES, Iowa — A Polk County judge has denied a request for a temporary injunction allowing them to continue online-only learning without violating state law.

The district applied to the Iowa Department of Education for a waiver from in-class instruction requirements due to concerns over COVID-19 cases surging in the Des Moines area. That waiver was denied. DMPS responded with a lawsuit challenging the waiver system and seeking a temporary injunction to allow them to continue online-only learning until the suit was settled.

On Tuesday morning, the same day that Des Moines students returned to virtual class to begin the school year, the injunction was denied. Judge Jeffrey Farrell writes in his order:

“DMPS makes excellent policy points in support of its arguments for local control, but state law trumps local control in this area of education. School district are a creation of state law and have no rights beyond those given by the legislature.”

Judge Jeffrey Farrell

The Department of Education has told schools that if they conduct online-only classes without a waiver to do so, those school days may not count towards instructional hours required by state law.

DMPS issued the following statement from Superintendent Dr. Tom Ahart, announcing an emergency school board meeting for Wednesday night to discuss the district’s next legal steps:

“On our first day of school for 2020-21, a day when Central Iowa remains one of the nation’s top COVID-19 hotspots and yet another day that Polk County is no closer to meeting the metrics that would indicate we can safely return to in-person instruction, Des Moines Public Schools received the Court’s denial of our request for an injunction.

We are disappointed in today’s ruling denying our request for a temporary injunction to allow DMPS to begin the year online. The School Board proceeded with online learning only after serious consideration of all options, due to the alarming rise of COVID-19 in our community. Local control has long been at the heart of school operations in our state. In these unprecedented times we need more flexibility, not less, and we believe that is what the legislature intended to provide us.

Although the court did not issue the injunction based on its interpretation of Senate File 2310, it did agree that DMPS had demonstrated that irreparable harm will occur without the requested injunction. The court acknowledged that DMPS is faced with an impossible choice: resume on-site instruction without the ability to comply with CDC guidelines and risk serious harm to the health and safety of staff and students or continue online and suffer disastrous financial consequences. The court noted that DMPS ‘is a public school district who is diligently trying to protect its employees and students while advancing children learning.’

The Des Moines School Board will hold a closed session tomorrow evening to discuss with legal counsel our next steps. I hope to have more information after that meeting to share about where we go from here as a school district.

Until further notice, classroom instruction will continue online for most DMPS students. While this has not been made clear to the public, the credit earned through virtual learning does count for individual students, and schoolwork completed online is applied towards grades and attendance.

I realize this is a stressful time for our students and families as well as our 5,000 employees. The school board, my team and I are actively working to resolve this challenge in a manner that will continue to both provide education and opportunities for the children of Des Moines and safety for all of us.”

Dr. Tom Ahart, Superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools

Governor Kim Reynolds responded to the Tuesday court ruling with this statement:

“The court’s decision today recognizes that we are correctly interpreting Iowa law, and I remain committed to working with Des Moines Public Schools on their return to learn plan so that it meets the educational and health needs of Iowa’s children.”

Governor Kim Reynolds

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