DMPS Continues Online Classes, Considers Next Move After Court Decision

DES MOINES, Iowa - Des Moines Public Schools will continue with online only classes, despite a Polk County judge's denial of its request to temporarily block the state's requirement for in-person classes.

The school board is holding a closed session Wednesday night with its legal advisors to determine its next steps. Des Moines School Superintendent Thomas Ahart said he would have more information to share after that meeting.

Ahart says online classes do court for individual students. The state has said online classes in defiance of its in-person requirement will not be given credit, and that the classroom hours will have to be made up at a later date.

The Des Moines district's lawsuit against the state will move forward with a trial. The district argues that state law gives local school boards the power to make classroom decisions. It's also seeking to have the state's requirement for half of all classes to be conducted in-person permanently tossed out.

State agencies and Governor Kim Reynold's office have interpreted a law passed by the legislature this year as requiring 50 percent of all classes to be in person during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state has set guidelines allowing school districts to ask for a waiver to conduct online only classes if local county COVID-19 positivity rates over 14-days reach 15 percent, and schools have 10 percent absenteeism.

The COVID-19 positivity rate in Polk County has not reached 15 percent, and is currently 8.8 percent.

Governor Kim Reynolds released a statement Tuesday, praising the court's decision. “The court's decision today recognizes that we are correctly interpreting Iowa law, and I remain committed to working with Des Moines Public Schools on their return to learn plan so that it meets the educational and health needs of Iowa's children,” said Reynolds.

A judge made a similar decision Tuesday in denying the Iowa City Community School District's request to temporarily block the state's in-person class requirement.

That ruling will have little impact because the state had already granted a waiver for online only classes in Iowa City after COVID-19 positivity rates in Johnson County exceeded 15 percent. Johnson County currently has the third highest positivity rate in the state at 20.4 percent.

A lawsuit against the state from the Iowa City district and the state's largest teacher's union will also move forward with a trial.

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