Districts rethink ‘Return to Learn’ plans, DMPS approves virtual learning option for elementary students

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DES MOINES, Iowa – With the start of the school year quickly approaching and the delta variant of the coronavirus rapidly spreading, many school districts are rethinking their “Return to Learn” plans. 

It’s déjà vu for Des Moines Public Schools, as board members try to figure out how to start the school year safely.

“We are in an eerily similar situation as we were 12 months ago,” DMPS Superintendent Dr. Thomas Ahart said.

The Des Moines School Board met Tuesday and approved an online option for students still too young to get vaccinated. The district didn’t plan on offering an online option until families requested it.

“While I’m really excited for my first grader to get back to school, I’m concerned about the risk facing unvaccinated children this fall,” one parent said during Tuesday’s meeting.

School board members approved a contract to provide virtual material for elementary school students, but parents voiced that’s not enough and moved the conversation toward masks and other mitigation efforts.

With Iowa being a state where masks cannot be mandated, district leaders are tasked with finding a solution that’s safe and effective for everyone.

“We continue to look for other options to improve mitigation, but we do need to be cognizant that there are certainly some state-level restrictions that prevent us from doing what we know to be best practice,” Dr. Ahart said.

Tuesday was the Des Moines School Board’s only scheduled meeting for August. Members mentioned possibly meeting again before school starts this month, but nothing has been set.

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