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

'We should not be reopening schools for the remainder of the year': Des Moines Public Schools concerned for public safety if district reopens

Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended schools close until April 13. The state is assessing whether to extend that recommendation.

DES MOINES, Iowa — The leader of Iowa's largest school district called on the governor Tuesday to let him shut down his district for the remainder of the school year. 

"I'm very confident that we should not be reopening schools for the remainder of the year," Des Moines Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Ahart said.

On March 16, Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended schools close until April 13 to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

When asked if that recommendation would be extended Tuesday, the Iowa Department of Education said they are continuing to evaluate the evolving situation and will update schools as quickly as possible. 

Ahart said he can't independently decide to cancel school for the rest of the year and wants Reynolds to allow him to make decisions like that for the time being. 

"There's no question in my mind, in talking with healthcare leaders around the metro area, that the peak of the virus in our area will come sometime between the third week of April and as late as the middle of June," Ahart said. "Once the peak hits, the next day is not when we start back to school. There's going to be a tailing off period." 

Ahart said by allowing DMPS to close for the rest of the year, he'll be able to focus resources to better serve students remotely. 

"We feel like if we could announce now that school is canceled through the remainder of the semester, that would give us the opportunity to make the right decisions with our budget and with our personnel so that we could gear up to provide a richer level of service to our students while school is closed," Ahart said.

Preparing for remote learning

Ahart said the district has enough devices for every student to take one home. What a lot of kids are missing is the internet. 

"We have thousands of students that do not have internet access at home," Ahart said. "We need to cross that hurdle. We're actively working on that right now."

Remote learning is also a challenge Ahart said because all kids learn differently. 

"It is not as simple as having a device in every student's hand and internet connectivity at home," Ahart said.

Ahart said the district is also working to address the needs of students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). 

Ahart said last week, Des Moines teachers started preparing for remote learning environments. 

"The one thing that Des Moines does have going for us is that we do have a fully functioning and high performing virtual academy, which is essentially a virtual high school," Ahart said. "We have robust courseware already developed by our teachers. It's aligned with the Iowa Core, and it's been successfully delivered to over 400 students."

Students can get credit for remote learning if their district requires students to participate

Last week, the Iowa Department of Education released guidance on how schools can offer learning opportunities to students while they are closed. 

The department has two different continuous learning provisions. 

One is voluntary, meaning schools can encourage students to participate, but cannot require them to. The other allows schools to require a continuous learning program.

The Department of Education recognizes there are several hurdles schools will have to overcome to allow required remote learning. 

One thing districts will need to address is making sure required remote learning is equitable for all students. 

Today's COVID-19 update was just sent out. One important item today ... is a technology survey for high school seniors. There is also an important message for everyone: "With yesterday's announcement by President Trump that federal guidelines in response to COVID-19, including social distancing, will continue through the end of April, Des Moines Public Schools is anticipating that school closures will continue past April 13.

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