Des Moines Public Schools has been working over the past several weeks on how to best continue our learning during the 2020-21 school year. Our top goal is providing students with a quality education but doing so, during a global pandemic, in a way that is safe for them, their teachers, and their families.
Where Things Stand Today
DMPS continues work to ensure sure the 2020-21 school year goes on for our students and staff safely in the midst of a pandemic while still providing a quality education. Following the September 15 School Board meeting, this is an update on where things stand:
- Learning will continue primarily virtual for most students. During the first week of this school year, 96.5% of all students have been engaged in virtual learning, a figure that is increasing as early technical issues for some students and families are resolved.
- As a result, high school sports and other extracurricular activities remain on hold.
- A plan is being prepared to work towards compliance with State guidelines, moving more students to in-person learning based upon their needs.
- This plan will be presented to a special meeting of the School Board at 5:00 PM on Monday, September 21.
The School Board and DMPS administrators understand the concerns people in the community have on both sides of the debate over virtual vs. in-person. We also understand that people with larger soap boxes than ours are critical of the steps we have taken. But in most states, school districts have the ability to make their own decisions about how best to educate students. Our only intent in this entire process has been how to safely return to school as Iowa continues to be one of the nation’s COVID-19 hotspots.
The First Week of Virtual Learning Classes
- 96.5% of DMPS students are successfully connected to virtual learning. They have access to instruction 5 days a week with a live teacher.
- Students who are struggling with online learning are being contacted by staff to offer technical support and/or assessment for possible access to in-person instruction.
- 5,000 Individual Education Plan meetings have been completed with 98% parent involvement.
- 500 Special Education students are working in-person in buildings with teachers.
- Thousands of free grab-and-go meals are being provided each day to students at every DMPS elementary, middle and high school.
- Staff are working with students in need to get families in touch with services from disaster relief, to financial and employee assistance, to ELL services and more.
- Metro Kids Care is offering income-based childcare in a socially distanced setting to those families who must work during the school day.
Why it’s Not Compliant with the State
The current approach is not in line with the Governor’s mandate that the district offer at least 50% in-person learning. Despite numerous attempts to meet with the Governor and the Iowa Department of Education, they have been unwilling to move from neither the 50% mark, nor the 15% positivity rate and 10% absenteeism due to COVID-19 mandate , which would mean that 2,200 DMPS students must be sick with the Coronavirus and 1 in 6 people tested in Polk County are infected before we can apply for a waiver to move the district back to fully virtual learning. If the district does not comply, the Governor has threatened administrator licenses and penalties that could amount to millions of dollars.
What compliance with the Governor’s mandate would look like at DMPS
The school board met on Tuesday, Sept. 16, to discuss options for moving the district into compliance with the Governor’s mandates. We want to be transparent about what offering both the hybrid and virtual options together will look like in a district twice the size of any other in Iowa.
- Students in both virtual and hybrid may see their live instruction time with a teacher decrease. Virtual and hybrid students will spend about 50% of their time in online self-directed learning. This is not uncommon in districts offering both models. While we can offer a live teacher five days a week when the entire district is in virtual learning, there simply are not enough teachers and staff to offer live instruction to students in both learning models five days a week.
- The district may not be able to guarantee social distancing in many of our buildings during hybrid learning. However, to best follow CDC social distancing guidelines, the state has suggested students who are hybrid may still learn virtually from a classroom separate from the teacher during their “in-person” school hours. In short, some hybrid students may be risking exposure to COVID-19 in a building, while still learning virtually without real in-person contact with a teacher. All students and staff will be required to wear masks throughout the day.
- The district will not be able to guarantee social distancing on buses. Also, due to a bus driver shortage related to the high COVID-19 positivity rate in Polk County, school start times may need to be staggered. Students may need to depart from home much earlier than they have in years past, or, return home later in the evening.