Des Moines Public Schools superintendent to suggest applying for waiver to move fully online

The Des Moines School Board will meet Sunday in a special meeting to determine whether the district will move all schools to virtual learning as …

The Des Moines School Board will meet Sunday in a special meeting to determine whether the district will move all schools to virtual learning as COVID-19 cases continue to increase across the state.

Superintendent Thomas Ahart will ask the board to approve the district applying for a waiver to move to fully virtual instruction, delay the start of in-person instruction for high schoolers and transition preschool, elementary and middle schools to virtual learning beginning Nov. 16, district spokesperson Phillip Roeder said.

High school students are slated to start their first day of in-person learning Tuesday. Preschools welcomed students on Oct. 12, followed by elementary schools on Oct. 19 and middle schools on Oct. 26.

The board voted in late September to adopt a hybrid model in an effort to be in compliance with state guidelines. For Des Moines’ model, the district divided students into two groups. The first group attends school on Monday and Tuesday and the second group attends school on Thursday and Friday. The two groups alternate every other Wednesday.

State guidelines require schools to hold at least 50% of their classes in person unless the positivity rate in the district’s county exceeds 15% and the students’ absentee rate reaches 10%.

In early October, the board approved four metrics to consider when deciding whether to move classes online. Those metrics included:

  • The number of new COVID-19 cases in Polk County reaches more than 100 per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period;
  • The county’s positivity rate exceeds 10% over a 14-day period;
  • The DMPS student absentee rate exceeds 10%;
  • And the DMPS staff absentee rate exceeds 10% or 5-9.9% for a sustained period longer than one week.

Two of the district’s metrics have already been reached. As of Sunday afternoon, Polk County’s COVID-19 positivity rate over the past 14 days was 16%. And according to the Polk County Health Department, the county is averaging 372 total cases per 100,000 residents over the last seven days.

Also as of Sunday, 81 of the state’s 99 counties reported above a 15% 14-day positivity rate. Since Nov. 2, five Iowa schools have applied for and been granted waivers to temporarily move to 100% remote learning by the Iowa Department of Education.