The Iowa Department of Education on Thursday denied a request from Des Moines Public Schools to start the school year fully online, arguing that the state's goal is to allow "parents to choose what's best for their child" — not school districts.
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Last month, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) ordered schools in the state to begin the new year by offering at least 50% of its classes within the school building.
The order permitted school districts to apply for an exemption from the law allowing them to operate in a primarily virtual option, but outlined that such requests would need to be approved by the state.
The state's guidelines delineated that districts must have a 2-week rolling average positive test rate of at least 15% in their county before they can transition.
In a letter to the district Thursday, Education Department Director Ann Lebo said the coronavirus infection rate in Polk County, where DMPS is located, did not meet the state's criteria.
"The Iowa Department of Public Health has corrected the current 14-day average percent positivity rate for Polk County as 8%," Lebo wrote. "And your request, including the detailed letter of you provided, and our consultation with the Iowa Department of Public Health have not identified any other basis for concluding that it is appropriate to start the school year with primarily remote learning. For these reasons, your request is denied."
Lebo made clear that the order does not stop DMPS from providing 100% online classes for families that select that option, "nor does it affect the district's ability to provide hybrid learning that offers at least half of its instruction in person."
Now, the school district is planning to sue the state, making them the second district to do so since Reynolds' order was implemented.
According to the Des Moines Register, DMPS said Friday that it will ask a judge to block the state's enforcement of the order and review the state's authority to deny local school boards the "ability to make decisions in accordance with the law and the interests of their local communities."
"The governor and her agencies have decided to ignore the local decision-making authority set out in the law to try and force their will on school districts to do things we all know are simply not safe at this time," said Kyrstin Delagardelle, chair of the Des Moines school board, in a statement.
"The virtual learning proposed by DMPS is not an act of political defiance," Superintendent Tom Ahart added. "It's about following science as we resume instruction for our students while doing our part to keep our community safe during a time of continuing uncertainty regarding public health."
The district plans to file the petition in court next week. Students are scheduled to begin classes the week after Labor Day.