Gov. Kim Reynolds

(Des Moines) -- Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and the state's largest school district continue to butt heads over face-to-face classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, the Des Moines Public School District lost a court battle seeking an injunction that would allow them to continue offering online-only classes as they have been since September 8th. Reynolds has issued guidance that requires districts to offering in-person instruction at least 50% of the time unless the district requests a waiver for online courses. Reynolds says the district's current plan does not comply with state rules.

"On July 1st, the Des Moines Public School Superintendent (Tom) Ahart indicated that they were going to do a hybrid model," said Reynolds. "For K-8, it meant two days per week in school and for high school it was one day per week. That wasn't in compliance with the new rules, but it was close. Instead of working with the Department of Education and the Department of Public Health to figure out a way that we could get them there, they went backwards."

To request a waiver for online courses, school districts must show that the county they are in has a 14-day positivity rate of 15% or greater and have a 10% absentee rate at the school. Reynolds says it's important to get kids back in the classroom after some of them haven't had any educational activities since schools were closed last March.

"Our kids have not really been -- in Des Moines -- participating in education for six months," said Reynolds. "Six months is what they've had to figure out a way."

The Des Moines School Board approved a plan this week that would allow certain groups of students to return to buildings if they struggle with online learning. The plan also lays out a set of metrics the district will use to determine when its safe to return. Reynolds says she wants the district to work with state officials.

"326 out of 327 school districts have figured it out," said Reynolds. "A lot of these school districts have been in school for three weeks. And I love what I'm seeing. They are adapting. They are learning. In West Des Moines, they thought they were going to have to apply for a waiver, but the more that they looked at it and worked with the team at the Iowa Department of Public Health and Department of Education, they figured out a way to do it safely and responsibly."

Reynolds says she is concerned that some kids may be reaching a tipping point in their development.

"I've laid out and I've laid out and I've laid out the impact to some of these kids that are being left behind," said Reynolds. "At some point, if we don't get there, do they recover? Are they just lost forever? I know they are working on it. I believe they want to do that. But, we've got to get there. And we can."

Dr. Ann Lebo is director of the Iowa Department of Education. She says since the Des Moines district is not in compliance with state rules, her office will issue citations and begin a review process.

"We have not initiated that process yet," said Lebo. "We were very hopeful to work with the district to find a solution. At this point, it seems that they are well into a plan that is out of compliance and will continue to do so. So, we'll have to initiate that process on our end."

The Des Moines School District is the largest in the state with over 33,000 students K-12.

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