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Iowa superintendent who refused to open schools could have license revoked


Des Moines Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Ahart's decision to violate Gov. Kim Reynolds' executive order is supported by the school board and the teachers union

Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A school superintendent in Iowa could lose his license for defying an order from Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) to open schools for in-person learning.

The Iowa Board of Education Examiners could revoke Des Moines Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Ahart's administrator's license after complaints were filed over his decision to keep students learning 100% online for the first two weeks of the school year.

The educational examiners' investigation, reported by the Des Moines Register, found that Ahart broke the law by "failing to submit and/or implement a lawful return-to-learn plan for the 2020-2021 school year."

The examiners warned that Ahart may be forced to surrender his license or agree to accept a "lesser sanction."

Iowa schools were closed last March and instruction was moved online after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. Over the summer, Gov. Reynolds signed an executive order requiring schools to meet in-person at least 50% of the time, giving school districts in areas with at least 15% coronavirus test positivity rates the ability to apply for a waiver to stay closed.

Des Moines Public Schools applied for a waiver but the application was denied. In September, the school district sued to keep classes 100% online but a judge dismissed its request for an injunction against Reynolds' order.

When the schools were supposed to open in September, Ahart kept Des Moines public schools closed and the 31,000 students who attend them attended classes completely online, in violation of the mandate.

Iowa passed a law in January requiring that schools offer 100% in-person learning and a virtual learning option for families who prefer that.

The Des Moines Public School Board released a statement from Dwana Bradley and Rob Barron, the chair and vice chair of the school board, in support of Ahart:

The actions taken by Des Moines Public Schools in the midst of a global pandemic were done so to keep our community healthy and to save lives. During much of the past year, guidance from the state and federal government and public health officials was often conflicting and changing.

Superintendent Ahart took no action without the support and authorization of the School Board as we worked to educate students and lower the spread of COVID-19 in Iowa's largest city. Trying to save the lives of Iowans, during a period unlike anything any one of us has ever experienced, should not be met with an attack on Dr. Ahart's career.

The fact is, DMPS has been in compliance with the in-person learning requirements for the past five months AND are making up the instructional time from the beginning of the year under a plan that has been approved by the State. As the Chair and Vice Chair of the School Board, we support Dr. Ahart's work in carrying out the direction of the Board.

This complaint does nothing to benefit the children of our school district and move us past the pandemic.

Ahart is also supported by the teachers union.

"Dr. Ahart had the choice to violate the Governor's interpretation of the law or put students and staff in, what he and the Des Moines School Board deemed, unnecessarily more dangerous conditions.," Des Moines Education Association President Josh Brown in a statement.

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