Despite loss in court, Des Moines district is balking at in-person instruction

Sept. 14, 2020
Administrators say transportation, staffing and space shortages make it impossible for the district to abide by governor's directive for in-person classes.

The Des Moines Register reports that, according to district administrators, several obstacles would have to be overcome before in-person classes could resume.

A key issue is staffing: Teachers are threatening to resign if forced to return to classrooms. The district also has a shortage of substitute teachers, and bus drivers are leaving faster than they can be replaced, administrators say.

For now, Des Moines is proceeding with online-only instruction.

Reynolds says the mandate she issued is based on state law, and two judges so far have ruled in her favor. The district also is proceeding with its lawsuit, which contends that local districts in Iowa, not the governor, have the authority to decide health and safety matters.

The board plans a Tuesday vote on whether to continue online-only instruction for at least the next six weeks.

Superintendent Thomas Ahart says the biggest issue in transitioning to a hybrid instruction model is transportation. With a bus driver shortage in Iowa, the district may have to resort to staggering start and end times at elementary schools to free up more buses.

"During this pandemic, we have bus drivers who are afraid for their health and for their life," he says. "We’re losing drivers faster than we can train and hire new drivers."

If the district returns to in-person learning, schools could find themselves short-staffed.

Josh Brown, president of the Des Moines Education Association, says the union has heard from 10 to 15 teachers who have inquired about how to resign instead of returning to in-person teaching.

Teachers that do return may not have backup if they are sick or need to take a day off. Ahart says the district is constantly facing a shortage of substitute teachers.

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