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Des Moines, Iowa — Governor Kim Reynolds warned that students at Des Moines Public Schools could be “lost forever” if the district doesn’t call kids back to the classroom soon.

Governor Reynolds’ offered the warning on Wednesday morning one day after the Des Moines school board decided to continue online learning in defiance of state law. “326 out of 327 school districts have figured it out,” Reynolds said at her weekly news conference about ‘Return to Learn’ plans that have been approved. “Every other school district in Polk County has figured out a way to do that.”

Des Moines public schools began their semester on September 8th will online-only education. The district was denied a waiver to allow online-only learning. The district is suing Governor Reynolds and the Department of Education to challenge the waiver requirement. On Tuesday the district’s school board voted to begin working towards a hybrid instructional model that would be in compliance with state law. However they will continue to offer instruction online-only in the meantime.

Governor Reynolds called the board’s decision “disappointing” and says it doesn’t include a clear timeline and the public health standards it relies on are too strict. “There is no clear sense of how or when that might happen. Only the district will determine when conditions are safe to do so using metrics that appeared to be designed to ensure they don’t come back for in-person learning,” Governor Reynolds said.

Des Moines Public Schools officials have complained the state’s guidelines for coronavirus outbreaks are too strict and go beyond CDC recommendations. Governor Reynolds argues closing schools could have a health impact of its own, keeping kids away from meals, mentors and mandatory reporters they rely on at schools.

The hours spent on online-only instruction by Des Moines students could be disallowed by the state when it calculates whether the district meets year-end mandates required by law. Director Ann Lebo with the Department of Education says the process of challenging Des Moines schools’ instructional hours has not begun. Instead, she stressed that the state wants to work first to get the district into compliance and not focus on any penalty at this time.