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Des Moines Schools Returning To Hybrid Learning After Winter Break

Des Moines Public Schools administrative offices
Michael Leland
A one-week waiver for Des Moines school was denied because the coronavirus infection rate in Polk County has come down in recent weeks.

Des Moines Public Schools will bring all grades back in-person under the district’s hybrid plan on Monday. The decision comes after the Iowa Department of Education denied the district’s request to keep most grades online for an additional week.

On Wednesday, Polk County’s 14-day COVID infection rate was 11.7 percent, which is below the state’s guideline of 15 percent to approve remote learning.

On a vote of 4-3, the Des Moines School Board chose to send all classes back at the same time rather than stagger their start dates for hybrid learning . Board member Kimberly Martorano said middle and high school students in particular need more time in-person after spending almost the whole year online so far.

“We need to provide opportunity for our students to achieve at their highest level and in my mind that’s giving them the opportunity for a hybrid learning environment, at the very least,” Martorano said.

Board member Kalyn Cody voted against switching to hybrid because the coronavirus is still spreading quickly. The district’s own independently chosen metrics recommend waiting until positive case numbers fall further before transitioning away from virtual learning.

Unless pandemic conditions improve, Cody said, the district should wait for vaccinations.

“What matters is when we can get our people and our families, and ourselves hopefully, vaccinated so we can end this and get back to whatever amounts to normal business when that’s possible,” Cody said.

Superintendent Thomas Ahart said the district has not heard when any vaccines would be available for teachers and others staff members.

At one point before winter break more than 50 school districts were operating under remote learning waivers. By Monday there will be no active waivers through the Iowa Department of Education.

The department has said the guidelines for granting new waivers may be different going forward but no specific changes have been announced.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa