Richland 44 implements new COVID-19 mitigation plans

The Richland 44 School District, headquartered in Abercrombie and Colfax, North Dakota, reported one new and 29 active COVID-19 cases Friday, Sept. 10. The active cases include 16 among elementary-age students, nine among high schoolers and four among staff members.

On Wednesday, Sept. 8, Richland 44’s board modified the district’s COVID-19 response. Dr. Britney Gandhi, district superintendent and principal of Richland 44 High School, explained the change to Valley News Live.

“If a student or staff are symptomatic with any COVID-like symptoms, they should stay home until they are symptom-free for 24 hours,” Gandhi said.

A short-term virtual learning program for those who are sick or exposed to COVID-19, as well as a four-person task force, was created. The board also mandated household close contacts to quarantine for 10 days.

Results from a survey of Richland 44 parents are available at the district’s website. They include seven pages of comments. Presented unedited are a few:

• “I feel household contacts should not have to quarantine IF a family member has had a positive covid test and IF unvaccinated.”

• “I believe the schools current policy to be a common sense and well balanced approach to dealing with this. Please continue as such. Thank you”

• “We love our school and know how hard decision-makers are working. Thank you.”

• “We are in favor of asking the teachers and school employees what they prefer - they have to work in the building with all of the children every day. We want everyone to be safe and for kids to be in school as long as possible. We selected ‘optional’ for masking, but are very willing to have our children do whatever the teachers/school employees are comfortable with or what the majority of families feel is necessary. Missing 10 days of work is going to be a hardship for many families so if masking to reduce close contacts is necessary, we will support that.”

• “Everyone will get this eventually, so let’s get it through the system and move on with our lives.”

• “Unvaccinated household contacts should quarantine. Vaccinated should not.”

• “Both myself and my husband have jobs that we Cannot work from home. Whenever a child is quarantined it puts extra stress on who will be able to stay home.”

As of Friday, Richland 44 has confirmed 39 COVID-19 cases to date among students and staff. The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) confirmed 632 active cases Friday in Cass County, North Dakota, and 49 active cases in Richland County, North Dakota. Friday’s 3,093 active cases statewide included 214 among ages 0-5, 311 among ages 6-11, 163 among ages 12-14 and 259 among ages 15-19.

Friday also included the publication of a letter from the North Dakota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, North Dakota Medical Association and North Dakota Academy of Family Physicians. All called for universal masking for all students and staff, as well as COVID-19 vaccinations for those eligible.

“In-person school has clear educational, safety, physical and mental health benefits,” the physicians wrote. “Students and teachers are already getting sick. As you modify your school’s COVID-19 safety plans, please require masking by all staff and students. Universal masking is the best and most effective strategy to create consistent messaging and expectations. We also strongly recommend COVID-19 vaccinations for your employees and community members, especially those working directly with children in schools. The vaccines are highly effective and safe.”

Richland 44’s school board met the same night as Wahpeton Public Schools’ latest meeting. Rosemary Hardie, principal of Zimmerman Elementary School, gave an update Wednesday on her students and faculty. While the Zimmerman building in Wahpeton is being fully cleaned after the uncovering of mold, Zimmerman Elementary School is operating in Wahpeton Elementary School.

“We’ve completed our first phase of the move, with the most essential items brought from the school. Now we’re onto the second phase, with more items coming. It’s been a successful transition and we’re proud to collaborate with our partners,” Hardie said.

The future of the Zimmerman building, 508 Ninth St. N. in Wahpeton, is still to be determined. Art Nelson, Michelle Nelson and Scott Thiel, members of the Wahpeton School Board, were appointed to a subcommittee concerning the building’s future.

“It is possible that the elementary school could permanently relocate to the Wahpeton elementary-middle school complex,” Daily News previously reported.

Wednesday’s meeting in Wahpeton also included a public request for more bus drivers. The Twin Towns Area is one of countless communities affected by a nationwide bus driver shortage and Wahpeton Public Schools took action to address it. Board directors voted unanimously to approve health insurance for drivers who work at least 30 hours a week. To learn more, contact Wahpeton Public Schools at 701-642-6741.

Both Wahpeton Public Schools and Richland 44 are scheduled to hold homecoming week between Monday, Sept. 13-Friday, Sept. 17.

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