Urbandale Community School District approves hybrid return-to-learn plan, starting Aug. 25

Robin Opsahl
Des Moines Register

Urbandale Community School District will begin the school year using a hybrid model on Aug. 25, a model in line with Gov. Kim Reynolds' requirement for at least 50% of classes to be taught in-person beginning this school year.

The school district's 4-3 decision followed a week of controversy: in a special board meeting Monday, Aug. 3, the board decided to extend its fully online classes at Rolling Green Elementary despite the state Department of Education's denial of permission to extend the program, which expired Thursday.

Following their decision, Urbandale schools' representatives — alongside Waukee's school district — met with Iowa education officials to discuss the return to the state Department of Education's denial of permission to extend the program. 

"I'm really nervous about how this is going to work out, and this is a lot of trust I have in you guys," board member Judy Downs said in an emotion vote to approve the hybrid model kicking off the district's school year.

The hybrid model has students split between two groups, with half of students attending school in-person Tuesday and Thursday or Wednesday and Friday in addition to alternating Mondays. Families also have the option of having their children take fully virtual classes.

The decision means Rolling Green Elementary will start face-to-face classes the same day as the rest of schools in the district in the hybrid model, after having fully online classes since the school's year started July 23.

The discussion of the choice to return to in-person classes was heated. Multiple members of the school board argued that given current COVID-19 positivity and transmission rates recorded in Polk County, the school district would not be able to hold in-person classes safely in any model.

"We damn well should have made this decision face to face," board member Sarah Schmitz said. "Because for us to sit here virtually, making a decision to send our staff back, is highly hypocritical of us."

But others disagreed, saying that many children require face-to-face learning, and that the hybrid model and increased sanitation measures provided staff and students adequate protection against COVID-19.

Three parents spoke in support of returning to fully in-person classes starting this year during a public comment section, following the board's closed session, which lasted for over an hour before the public meeting.

Board member Brianna Sayre Geiser also referenced surveys conducted by school district administration of families and staff about their comfort with the programs. Almost 70% of both staff and families reported feeling comfortable returning to the classroom in a hybrid model. In comparison, over 70% of staff and 50% of families responded that they did not feel comfortable with a full return to the classroom.

"I strongly feel that we need to give some form of face-to-face learning to our children that truly need that," Geiser said, talking about students with special needs or Individualized Education Programs.

Robin Opsahl covers the eastern Des Moines metro for the Register. Reach them at ropsahl@registermedia.com or 515-284-8051.

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