Des Moines board OKs plan to meet governor's classroom order

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Des Moines school board approved a plan Wednesday night to return to in-classroom learning, but it included metrics for allowable coronavirus infection rates that the district doesn't currently meet, making it unclear if students will actually return to school as planned.

The board voted 6-1 to gradually implement a hybrid learning plan, starting with prekindergarten on Oct. 12 and ending with high school students on Nov. 10. Students can choose to remain in all remote learning or opt for 50% instruction in classrooms with the remainder online.

Des Moines is the only district in Iowa that hadn't approved a plan that met Gov. Kim Reynolds' demand that school districts hold at least half of their classes in-person. The state Department of Education had planned to begin a process that could find the district out of compliance with state law.

Des Moines administrators and school board members have argued that it wasn't safe for the state's largest school district to return because of the district's crowded classroom and the community's high rate of coronavirus infections.

Despite approving a plan to return to classrooms, the board set several metrics for coronavirus infection rates as well as student and staff absences. If school were to begin immediately, the district would not be in compliance with at least one of those standards, for the number of positive cases per 100,000 population in Polk County.

Board members met for more than four hours before approving a plan and at times argued over the wisdom of renewing in-classroom learning when Iowa has one of the nation's highest rates of coronavirus infections. Several public health and infectious disease experts answered questions before the vote, with some recommending the board require lower positivity rates before reopening schools.

“The experts told us we're not ready," board member Kalyn Cody said.

Other board members noted the strain the lack of an in-classroom option was leaving on families and questioned the education some children were receiving through all remote learning.

“We should give it a shot and try," board member Kelli Soyer said.

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