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Education

Des Moines Schools Leader Could Lose Job Over COVID-19 Response

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Michael Leland
/
IPR
A decision by the superintendent of Iowa’s largest school district to stick with remote learning in the midst of a pandemic could end up costing him his job.

A decision by the superintendent of Iowa’s largest school district to stick with remote learning in the midst of a pandemic could end up costing him his job.

The Iowa Board of Educational Examiners is seeking to strip Des Moines Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Ahart of his administrator license, saying it found probable cause that Ahart failed to submit or implement a lawful plan to return students to the classroom for the 2020-21 school year, television station WOI reported Wednesday. The license is a state requirement to hold the position of schools superintendent in Iowa.

At the time of Ahart’s decision, Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds required schools to provide at least 50 percent of teaching in classrooms and allowed districts to seek temporary reprieves to teach online only when virus activity rose to especially high levels. In January, Reynolds signed into law requirements that schools offer a full-time, in-person learning option, despite an outcry from teachers, school nurses and other education professionals who said pushing children back into classrooms during the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t safe.

The examiners board, which is appointed by the governor, has given Ahart the choice to surrender his license or agree to accept a lesser sanction. The board cites complaints received Sept. 30 and Oct. 21 that Des Moines schools had not returned to in-person teaching.

Ahart is scheduled to appear May 20 before an administrative law judge.

Des Moines School Board Chair Dwana Bradley and Vice Chair Rob Barron defended Ahart in a written statement Wednesday, saying his decisions on remote learning were made at the direction of the school board. They also pushed back against the Board of Education Examiners’ findings, saying Des Moines schools have been in compliance with in-person learning requirements and are making up instructional time from the beginning of the year.

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

Des Moines schools educate more than 33,000 students and have nearly 5,000 teachers and staff.