DES MOINES, Iowa — As surrounding metro school districts are returning to school in the classroom, some Des Moines parents are asking why their children cannot do the same as the district continues online.
“We want our kids to go back to school. We want to be able to go learn in person,” parent and pastor Eugene Kiruhua said.
Several parents and students gathered outside of Edmunds Elementary School on Monday afternoon to give voice to their concerns, urging Des Moines Public Schools to nix its 100 percent virtual learning plan.
Kameron Middlebrooks, a DMPS alumnus and president of the local NAACP chapter, said the virtual model can work for parents who are able to work from home or can afford childcare, but that is not reality for many families.
“It does not work for the family who has multiple children, both parents are essential workers and do not make enough money to send their child to an all-day facility,” he said.
The group, which consisted of mostly Black Iowans, said COVID-19 has already disproportionately affected their communities and that they cannot afford to let it affect their education, too.
“Research shows the best method to eliminate the apparatus of systemic and structural racism is education,” Middlebrooks said. “We are already an at-risk community. Keeping our schools closed for children in the most need is an inequitable practice.”
Single mother and refugee Nancy Mwirotsi said another barrier for these families is access to technology and the ability to understand it proficiently.
“Most of my family and the families that I serve do not have access to technology at home,” Mwirotsi said. “So, when the pandemic happened and schools had to close down, most of those kids that we are standing and representing here today did not have computers at home or do not have WiFi.”
Although Des Moines Public Schools provided district laptops and WiFi hotspots to students that needed it, Mwirotsi said it is still hard for those families to troubleshoot and help their children with online learning, when English is their second language.
“Some of those kids are reading way below the level — they’re reading at least three or four grades below. Those are the kids we’re fighting for today,” she said.
The group is asking the district to choose a hybrid learning model option, where students will spend most time in the classroom, but still some time learning virtually.
“We are asking for an option for a choice and one that puts us back in compliance with the state,” Middlebrooks said.
The Des Moines School Board will hold a virtual meeting Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. and is expected to make a final decision on return-to-learn plans for the foreseeable future.