By Robert Barron, Des Moines School Board Member, for Hola Iowa
The coronavirus has caused an incredible amount of fear, stress, and uncertainty about every part of our daily lives. I was asked to write this column to provide some information on what is happening with the plan to return to school this fall.
Before I provide some information, I want to introduce myself. I am one of several Latino school board members on school boards in Iowa. If you live in Des Moines and you have questions, I have asked Tar (Hola Iowa’s publisher) to print my phone number and email with this column. This newspaper is read by people outside of my home city of Des Moines, and if you have questions about another school district, I suggest you reach out to the principal, a friendly teacher or another school board member in your home district.
I also created the Latino Political Network to connect all of the Latinx elected officials in Iowa. All of their contact information is on our website, including emails and phone numbers.
On July 1, all school districts in Iowa were required to submit a Return to Learn plan to the State of Iowa. The plans did not have to be detailed, but they did have to explain how schools would start up again in the fall. Des Moines submitted our plan on time and it was approved. Our plan in a hybrid plan. That means that it is a mix of in-person learning and online learning. The plan gives parents two choices: 100% online learning and limited in-person education with required online learning. All students in Des Moines have the option of being in school everyday online. Those classes would be taught by DMPS teachers like in the spring. But unlike in the spring there will be requirements for attendance and turning in work.
Families can also choose to send their child back to school for one or two days per week. Students from kindergarten through 8th grade would have the option of going back to school either Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday. The other three days would be online instruction. High school students would be at school one day per week depending on their grade level, with the other four days being online instruction.
Families have to make their choice of 100% online or hybrid by July 31. Parents should have received two emails with information on how to make that choice.
On Friday, July 17, Governor Kim Reynolds made an announcement that could change many districts’ plans. She changed the requirements for school districts to require in-person instruction for at least 50% of a student’s education. That requirement would void the Des Moines plan (that the state already approved!) My board is looking into our options to appeal the decision or even file a lawsuit. We know that our plan is the only way to safely bring students back into schools without increasing the chances of a virus outbreak.
For families that are choosing what to do and struggling with the risk of sending their kids back to school against needing to be at work, we hear you. My son is seven years old and I am struggling to decide what is best for him. Our teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and other staff very much want to be back in school with their kids, but they are very worried about their health. We know that even in ideal circumstances, online education is not as valuable as in-person education. And we understand that family income is at stake. However, until this state can overcome the virus and lower the rates of positive tests, it is not safe to bring students back into classrooms five days per week.
I hope that this information is helpful to you. My contact information is below. I speak English and Spanish and will be happy to help answer questions.
“Our future may lie beyond our vision, but is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, will determine our destiny.” Sen. Robert Kennedy, Capetown, South Africa 1966