On Monday, February 15 students will have the opportunity to return to classes full-time and a five-day school week at Des Moines Public Schools. The Governor and legislature have mandated that Iowa school districts offer this option for students and families as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Last week, families had the opportunity to select between in-person and virtual classes at DMPS. This week work is underway – from updating student schedules to finalizing bus routes to planning meals – to make sure everything is ready for next Monday morning.
This change is a step towards “normal,” but precautions will still need to be taken for the health and well-being of our students, staff and the entire community.
This article shares an update on how many students are going to be in the two learning model options, the change to class sizes that will be seen starting Monday, and a reminder of what DMPS will and will not be able to do to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
THE NUMBERS: IN-PERSON VS. VIRTUAL
Up until this week, when DMPS offered the hybrid and virtual learning models, 60% of students attended classes in-person 2-3 days each week and 40% of students took all classes online. As a result of last week’s selection process, there has been a slight shift towards more in-person learning:
- FIVE-DAY IN-PERSON CLASSES: 20,349, or 64.6%, of students
- VIRTUAL ONLINE CLASSES: 11,132, or 35.4%, of students
However, as the table below shows, that trend varies according to grade level, with more students opting for the five-day school week at the lower grade levels and a closer margin at the upper grade levels:
Finally, during last week’s selection process about 500 more students moved from virtual to full-time in-person classes than moved from hybrid in-person to virtual classes. Similar to the trend in the above table, however, the figures below show that more students in high school moved towards virtual than in-person classes:
|Hybrid to Virtual||Virtual to In-Person|
WHAT CLASS SIZES WILL LOOK LIKE STARTING MONDAY
During hybrid learning, classes looked relatively small because they were relatively small. With 60% of students in hybrid learning it meant that approximately 30% of students were present for in-person classes. That meant measures such as social distancing could be attempted in classrooms.
The average class size during hybrid learning was 9 students at elementary and middle schools. The average class size our five high schools was a little higher, ranging from 11 to 14 students in hybrid in-person classes.
Beginning Monday these numbers will double or more with the five-day school week. Classrooms of 20 students or more will be the norm at elementary and middle schools, and 25-30 at the high schools.
WHAT CAN (AND CANNOT) BE DONE TO PREVENT COVID-19
A five-day school week will mean a significant increase in the number of people in our school buildings each day. Because of that, it is more important than ever that everyone does their part in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19.
For DMPS, that will mean continued steps such as:
- Face masks will be required in schools at all times (except for meal or snack times);
- Thousands of hand sanitizers have been installed and will be maintained for use;
- Communal water fountains will remain closed and water bottle filling stations will be open;
- Air circulation will continue to be increased in school buildings;
- Periodic disinfecting of high-contact areas will continue;
- Athletics will continue to follow winter sports guidelines set by CIML, including limits on crowd size at events.
However, some basic steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will no longer be feasible, notably social distancing. With the increase in class sizes, the recommendations for social distancing will not be able to be met in classrooms. It will be encouraged whenever possible, but it cannot be guaranteed or enforced throughout the school day.
The same is true on school buses; face masks will be required but social distancing will usually not be possible.
Finally, DMPS has been working with local public health officials and health care providers to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to our teachers and staff. As of Monday, approximately 1,500 DMPS employees (out of 5,000) will have received the first dose of the vaccine at clinics hosted by the school district and MercyOne. In addition, a small number school district staff who are health professionals – such as nurses, audiologists and counselors – are expected to be fully vaccinated by the end of the month. However, while teachers and other school staff were eligible to begin receiving the vaccine last week, it is in the early stages and the vaccination process is expected to continue through the rest of the school year.