Judge: Iowa school leader improperly kept kids out of school


DES MOINES, Iowa — The leader of Iowa’s largest school district violated his duty by not complying with a law intended to ensure students could learn in classrooms during the pandemic, an administrative law judge ruled, without specifying how he should be punished.

Administrative Law Judge David Lindgren said during an Iowa Board of Educational Examiners hearing Thursday that Des Moines Superintendent Thomas Ahart “violated an ethical duty to comply with all laws applicable to the fulfillment of this professional obligations as alleged.”

However, the Des Moines Register reported that the judge gave no timeline for when he would decide how or even if Ahart should be punished.

Ahart is facing potential sanctions because the Des Moines school board violated a state mandate early in the 2020-2021 academic year that districts must offer at least half-time in-person learning. For two weeks to start the school year, Des Moines offered only virtual instruction.

After complaints were filed with the Board of Educational Examiners, the panel in March found that Ahart should surrender his administrators license or agree to a lesser sanction. Members of the board are appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, who throughout the pandemic has called for districts to offer classroom learning and has been critical of districts that hesitated to reopen schools because of high COVID-19 infection rates.

Ahart appealed the board’s decision.

Ahart’s attorney Dustin Zeschke told the judge it was wrong to punish the superintendent for carrying out the school board’s instructions.

School board vice chairman Rob Barron made a similar argument to Lindgren, saying Ahart kept the board informed and carried out its decisions.

“I don’t know if I can say this, but he shouldn’t be here in this position right now,” Barron said. “Everything he did was what me and my colleagues told him to do. I should be over there at that table and not him.”

Jesse Ramirez, an assistant attorney general, told the judge that Ahart should be punished but doesn’t think his license should be revoked.

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