DES MOINES, Iowa- The Des Moines Public School District has filed a petition in Polk County Court against the state of Iowa. The District is challenging the denial of a waiver to start the school year with remote learning only. The District wants an injunction to set aside the state's decision. The petition also wants a review of the State's authority to override district's tradition of local control. The Legislature passed a law earlier this year, requiring schools to conduct at least 50-percent of instruction in person.
The statement below is from DMPS Superintendent Thomas Ahart:
Since work on our Return to Learn plan began several months ago, Des Moines Public Schools has followed the rules and procedures put in place by the State of Iowa to begin the 2020-21 school year, and on July 1 submitted our plan to do so.
As the COVID-19 situation in Iowa continued to worsen, and while the State routinely changed the rules for return to learn, DMPS altered our plan in order to safely start the school year through primarily virtual learning. We sought every opportunity to cooperate and collaborate but, after exhausting those avenues, DMPS was left with little choice but to pursue legal action for an injunction to set aside the State rejection of our virtual learning plan and to review the State’s authority.
At its heart, the Petition that DMPS filed today in Polk County District Court is about local control and who is best positioned to make decisions to promote the health and safety of our students and staff, their families and the broader community while pursuing our core mission: educating our students. Iowa law clearly vests duly-elected local school boards with broad authority to make decisions of educational policy, and Senate File 2310 gives school districts the ability to determine the nature, location, and medium of instruction during the current COVID-19 global pandemic. This includes, where necessary due to local conditions, the ability to begin the school year in a primarily remote environment.
DMPS disagrees with the Governor’s interpretation of Iowa law and is pursuing a legal challenge to the actions of the Governor and the state agencies acting at her behest. We are encouraged that other states are also addressing this important issue, such as a ruling yesterday in Florida where a judge granted an injunction preventing the state’s governor from forcing schools to reopen or else lose state funding. We are optimistic that the Polk County District Court will allow DMPS to continue to act in the best interest of our students, staff, and greater school community.
Moving forward, of course, the timing is now up to the Court. In the interim, DMPS will continue to implement our plan to begin the school year with primarily virtual learning as well as allowing high school sports and extracurricular activities to continue to practice and compete.