The first Des Moines Public Schools students will return in two weeks. Here's how it will work.
Des Moines students will start returning to in-person classes in October, potentially ending a monthslong showdown with the Iowa governor over when to reopen school buildings during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Des Moines board of education voted Wednesday night to begin a phased reopening and approved a revised set of COVID-19 metrics that it will use going forward to determine when students can safely attend in-person classes and when classes should be held online.
The Iowa Department of Education will need to sign off on Des Moines' hybrid plan, but it closely mirrors those used in other school districts.
Here's how it will work:
When will students go back to school?
The reopening will begin with preschools on Oct. 12, followed by elementary schools on Oct. 19 and middle schools on Oct. 26. High school students will attend their first in-person classes on Nov. 10.
Some specialty programs, such as Central Academy, will remain fully online, while others, such as Orchard Place, will remain fully in person.
How will the hybrid plan work?
Students will be divided into two groups. The first group will attend school on Monday and Tuesday and the second group will attend school on Thursday and Friday. The two groups will alternate every other Wednesday.
Families can choose between the hybrid program or enrolling their children in the district's fully online model. The district began re-enrolling students last week. As of Wednesday, 64% of students had completed the process. Thirty-eight percent of them selected the fully virtual model. Families have until Sunday to make a decision.
Will students have to make up time?
Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo said in September that districts would be required to make up the time that classes are held entirely online, as the district has since the school year began Sept. 8 fully online.
Des Moines school Superintendent Tom Ahart said last week that the district could try to avoid adding extra days to the school year by extending the school day by five or 10 minutes once in-person classes resume, or by increasing the amount of in-person instruction the district offers students as COVID-19 conditions improve.
Those details would need to be worked out with the Department of Education after the district comes into compliance with the state mandate, Ahart said last week.
What metrics will Des Moines use to track COVID-19 spread?
The Des Moines school board approved four metrics that it will consider when deciding whether to move class back online.
They call for moving classes fully online once:
- 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.
No one item will trigger the district to move schools online, and in fact, the district does not currently meet the first metric. Polk County is currently averaging around 120 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents. The 14-day positivity rate in the county was 6.5% on Wednesday.
The district's metrics are more stringent than those required by the state. According to the state, schools must hold at least 50% of their classes in person unless the positivity rate in the county where they are located exceeds 15% and the students' absentee rate reaches 10%.
Charles Flesher covers K-12 education for the Register. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 515-284-8481. Follow him on Twitter @CharlesFlesher.