The Des Moines school board on Tuesday will decide whether to reverse course and offer an online option for elementary school students now that coronavirus delta variant is spreading widely.
The school board is expected to decide whether to award a $495,000 contract to Edgenuity Inc. during its Tuesday meeting as part of the consent agenda, items that generally attract little debate and unanimous votes. The curriculum will be open to students in kindergarten through fifth-grade.
Preschool students will only have an in-person option. Preschool is not required in Iowa.
The contract with Edgenuity will differ from the district’s Virtual Campus. The district opened Virtual Campus, originally an online high school, up to students in kindergarten through 12th-grade as an alternative to in-person learning during the 2020-21 school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This coming school year, Virtual Campus will only be open to middle and high school students.
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The district had not planned to offer an online option for elementary students but families have been requesting one, said Phil Roeder, Des Moines Public Schools‘ spokesperson. Recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that students and staff in schools should wear masks to slow the spread of COVID also spurred the decision.
“Certainly, the CDC guidelines from late last week were a pretty significant point in that we stepped back to look at what our options were … and the online option -given everything that’s going on- is the one that makes the most sense for us,” Roeder said.
The district is unable to put a mask mandate in place because Iowa law bans schools, cities and counties from requiring masks.
Elementary students taking part in online school will have a different experience than those taking part in Virtual Campus. Instruction for the online secondary school is a mix of prerecorded and live lessons.
“(Elementary) students will be taking classes online on their own time,” Roeder said.
The district is still working out how to provide help and services to English language learners, special education students and those receiving gifted and talented services, he said.
The cost of the curriculum will be covered by federal money authorized by Congress in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
It is rare for young people to get critically ill with COVID-19. But elementary school students are still ineligible for the vaccine, which has only been approved for kids over 12.
District officials plan to reach out to families on Wednesday about the new option, if it is approved. Enrollment to participate in the online elementary curriculum begins Aug. 9, Roeder said. There will be no limit to the number of students who can enroll, a departure from the district’s other online offerings next year.