July 31, 2020
Please see the first item below for an important message from the Superintendent. As Des Moines Public Schools continues to prepare for a return to school during the pandemic, we are preparing some changes in our initial Return to Learn plan, including bumping back the start of the school year to after Labor Day and beginning the year with online learning for all grade levels. We realize there are many questions around this change being considered, and we will be providing much more information in the days ahead.

Dear Friends,

As soon as Des Moines Public Schools transitioned to distance learning to finish last school year, we shifted our focus to how to safely begin 2020-21. Like school districts across the state, we spent thousands of hours developing a plan - according to the guidelines issued by the State of Iowa - on how to resume school in the midst of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. The development of this plan also reflected input from more than 80% of our families. While everyone wants a day when we can resume school as we have for the past one hundred years, that is simply an unsafe option. For DMPS, we prepared a plan - again, according to the guidelines issued by the State of Iowa - that provided our families with a choice between an all-virtual learning model and a hybrid model, which combines in-person and online learning. Our goal: educate our students while protecting the health and safety of our students, their families, and our staff. 
Over the past two weeks, the State of Iowa has released increased limitations on local decision-making, after more than 75% of our families had already registered for the plan we introduced on July 1. The DMPS plan was designed to maximize both student and staff safety and academic learning. Compliance with the recent changes in requirements will place students and staff at unacceptable risk given the COVID-19 conditions expected at the time school begins. Of particular concern are the guidelines issued just yesterday, stating that the transmission rate in a community must be more than 15-20% before a school can even ask for permission to change to online learning for a mere two weeks, a level triple that recommended by most public health experts.
The State's approach over the past two weeks has created concern and confusion for parents and teachers alike. It ignores the complexities of everything that goes into how a school district operates, not only preparing for online learning but everything from transportation to meals to technology to staffing. We recognize the significant challenges that the dramatic changes to daily schedules creates for our families and we are working with multiple district partners to address childcare and other family needs. However, the very notion that a school can simply flip a switch to go back and forth between in-person and online learning ignores the reality of how schools operate, what is best for our students and families, and limits the ability of teachers to provide quality instruction.  
Our reason for existence is to educate students, and that is exactly what DMPS will do in 2020-21. Whether in person or online, our teachers live to support the success of their students. But I am not going to put our staff - or their students and families - in the position of getting sick for that purpose. We can return to learn in a way that is smart, safe and realistic.
Therefore, Des Moines Public Schools is working on the following changes to our Return to Learn plan: 
  1. Delay the start of the school year to shortly after Labor Day. Professional Development days currently scheduled throughout the year would be held prior to the start of classes so that the 2020-21 school year ends as currently scheduled.
  2. The 2020-21 school year would begin fully virtual across all grade levels.
  3. As soon as it is safe to do so, DMPS would transition to the hybrid learning model for elementary and middle school students who registered for that plan.
  4. High school classes would most likely be held entirely online for the Fall semester, with the exception of some in-person classes at Central Campus.
As Superintendent, I will continue to make every effort to work collaboratively with the Iowa Department of Education and the Governor about our need to take this approach to responsibly further our students' education. Finally, DMPS is prepared to take every step available to ensure a safe start to the school year for our 33,000 students, 5,000 employees, their families, and the entire Des Moines community.

Dr. Thomas Ahart, Superintendent
Des Moines Public Schools
The School Board held a work session over the Noon hour today for an update on the Return to Learn process and a discussion about changes to the plan at DMPS outlined in the Superintendent's letter above. In addition, Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and one of the nation's foremost public health experts, took part in today's discussion to share his perspective and expertise on the implications of schools re-opening during a pandemic.  Click here to watch today's meeting on our YouTube Channel.
There's a lot of talk about online learning heading into the new school year. But what about on the ground learning? Dr. Greg Barord, the marine biology instructor at Central Campus, has been teaching "sidewalk science" in his Des Moines neighborhood, sharing lessons about nautiluses and other sea life for the edification of passers by and to share online with his students. Click here to read and see more.
Today marks 30 days before school starts on August 26. It's a time when families usually transition from thinking about summer activities to back-to-school shopping and school supplies. Because of the pandemic, one thing may be missing from the back-to-school list: a yearly visit to the pediatrician. One of the most important parts of a child's annual visit to the doctor is updating vaccinations that protect against measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, chicken pox, and a host of other diseases. This also includes a meningitis vaccination for students entering grades 7 and 12. While we don't yet have a vaccine for COVID-19, timely administration of these other vaccines helps protect your child now from other dangerous illnesses.  Click here for more information about school vaccinations.
August 15
Summer Personal Commencement Event - North High School 

September 7
Labor Day
Accurate health information about COVID-19 is important as people around the world respond to help put an end to this global pandemic. Stay informed and look for information on Coronavirus from reliable and trusted expert sources:
It is the policy of the Des Moines Community School District not to illegally discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, creed, age (for employment), marital status (for programs), sexual orientation, gender identity and socioeconomic status (for programs) in its educational programs and its employment practices. There is a grievance procedure for processing complaints of discrimination. If you believe you (or your child) have been discriminated against or treated unjustly at school, please contact Susan Tallman, 2100 Fleur Drive, Des Moines, IA 50321; phone: 515-242-7709; email: susan.tallman@dmschools.org.