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Local 5 - weareiowa.com | Des Moines Local News & Weather | Des Moines, Iowa

DMPS superintendent at risk of losing job for starting school year 100% online

The Iowa Board of Educational Examiners said as of Wednesday afternoon, they have not received a response from Dr. Thomas Ahart.

DES MOINES, Iowa — The superintendent of Iowa's largest school district is at risk of losing his administrator license. 

A document filed Feb. 3 with the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners alleges Des Moines Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas Ahart violated Iowa law by not submitting or implementing a lawful return-to-learn plan for the 2020-21 school year. 

Mike Cavin with the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners said a person must have a current and valid Iowa administrator license, with a superintendent endorsement to serve as a superintendent. If a license is suspended or revoked the holder would no longer be able to serve in that role.

This all stems from the district deciding to start the school year with 100% remote learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the time, Iowa law required at least 50% of instruction to be face to face unless the Iowa Board of Education granted a district a temporary waiver for 100% remote learning.

Reynolds has since signed into law requirements that schools at least offer an in-person learning option, saying in late January she feels parents should be able to decide if their children learn at home or in the classroom. 

The Board of Educational Examiners gave Ahart two choices: Surrender his Professional Administrator License or agree to accept a lesser sanction.

Ahart is required to submit a response within 20 business days.

After requesting a copy of the response, DMPS told Local 5 Thursday that Ahart's response is not public record, as it was "prepared by him and his attorney."

"Even if it were in the possession of the school district it is not a public record because it would be (a) part of a personnel record and (b) confidential under the BOEE’s administrative rules," spokesperson Phil Roeder said.

The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals receives responses initially before sending them to the Board of Educational Examiners. As of Wednesday afternoon, the board said it had not received the response. 

"I believe they send us documents pretty immediately after they receive them," Darcy Hathaway with the Board of Educational Examiners said.

According to the document, the Board of Educational Examiners got complaints about DMPS not returning to the classroom on Sept. 30 and Oct. 21.

"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," Des Moines School Board Chair Dwana Bradley and Vice Chair Rob Barron said in a joint statement. "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."

Ahart is scheduled to appear before an administrative law judge, who is acting on behalf of the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners, on May 20.

Des Moines Education Association President Joshua Brown is standing by Ahart's decision to keep kids home in the fall. 

“We know the decisions of the Des Moines Public School Board and followed by Dr. Ahart saved lives in our community," Brown said in a statement. "It bought needed time to get our schools prepared to provide in-person instruction and provided consistency for our staff and our students to begin the year safely. By the end of the year, the Des Moines Public School District will be in compliance with the required in-person instructional hours at an additional cost to the district with inadequate state financial support."

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