On Tuesday, the Des Moines school board decided that the district’s more than 32,000 students would continue “attending” virtual classes despite pleas from parents and others to let in-person classes resume.

Izaah Knox, executive director of Urban Dreams and the parent of two youngsters who attend school in Des Moines, this week wrote an open letter to the district asking that students be allowed to return to the classroom for at least 50% of their lessons.

“Vulnerable community members have never been more in need,” Knox wrote. “Schools are an essential access point, particularly for at-risk youth, providing students and families with critical resources beyond education.”

Knox wrote that school officials have frequently mentioned that “Black and Brown people are disproportionately affected by COVID. This is true, but this health disparity exists because of social determinants of health (including education), not because of predisposition.”

In the 2019-20 school year, 76% of students in the Des Moines district qualified for free or reduced-priced meals. Twenty-one percent of students were English language learners and 15% were enrolled in special education programs, according to the district’s website. 

Knox wrote that because of generational poverty, “many families in our district do not have the capacity or resources to supplement education in the home.” He wrote that many families cannot afford to send their children to day cares that can assist students in their lessons. Community-based organizations also don’t have the “capacity or expertise to help with this number of students,” he wrote.

“If we continue to allow our students to fall behind academically, our community’s residual effects will be more detrimental to people’s future prosperity,” Knox wrote.

At least three school board members -- Teree Caldwell-Johnson, Kimberly Martorano and Kelli Soyer -- agree with Knox. The three board members voted against a recommendation to transition to a hybrid learning model once COVID-19 numbers met thresholds recommended by public health experts, wrote Charles Flesher for the Des Moines Register.

The three said they favored moving more quickly to a hybrid model.  

Des Moines school district students have not had in-person classes since early March.

“I feel like we are failing a lot of our students,” Caldwell-Johnson said at the meeting, Flesher reported. 

Knox and others would agree.

To read Izaah Knox’s letter to the school district, click here.