Des Moines Students Will Stay Online for Now; School Board Votes to Work on Hybrid Plan

Return To Learn

DES MOINES, Iowa — Des Moines students will continue learning online for the foreseeable future, as the district works out how and when to return to in-person classes.

On Tuesday night, the Des Moines school board voted to work toward a hybrid learning model, a mix of both in-person and online instruction. This comes a week after a Polk County judge denied the district’s request for a temporary injunction to legally continue 100 percent virtual learning.

Board members said the transition to hybrid learning will be dependent on local COVID-19 conditions. 

Des Moines will continue to monitor COVID-19 conditions and transition fully to a hybrid model, which includes both in-person and online classes, when the district determines conditions are safe to do so, officials said. 

“First and foremost, we are here to serve our community,” board member Rob Barron said. “It feels impossible … we are balancing some very opposing objectives.”

The board meeting comes a day after parents and students called for the district to bring students back into the classroom.

Once the coronavirus numbers meet thresholds recommended by public health experts, the district will begin bringing students back into the classroom.

Board members Teree Caldwell-Johnson, Kimberly Martorano and Kelli Soyer voted against the measure, saying they believe the district needs to move to hybrid learning sooner.

The board did not vote on its metrics for reopening schools, but earlier released a draft of its criteria for launching a full hybrid model for all students. They call for: 

  • Community spread to be less than one new case per day per 100,000 population in Polk County on a seven-day rolling average;
  • A 14-day declining incidence of COVID-19 cases and a positive 14-day rolling average testing rate of less than 5 percent;
  • An effective reproduction number (Rt) of less than 1.0 in Polk County.

These metrics are much lower than those outlines out by the state. Iowa requires that schools offer at least 50% of classes in person unless the COVID-19 positivity rate is 15 percent or more for 14 days in the county where the district is located, and school absenteeism is at least 10 percent.  

Superintendent Tom Ahart is now tasked with drafting a hybrid learning plan, which the board will discuss in a meeting on Monday.

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