Local superintendents respond to ND education plans

Wahpeton Public Schools' COVID-19 task force will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 21 at Wahpeton High School. Education leaders in Richland County, N.D., directed to not expect another mass closing of the state's K-12 schools, are forming plans for the start of the 2020-2021 education year. Wahpeton is scheduled to begin classes on Aug. 26, 2020.

While it’s unknown whether or not North Dakota schools will have face to face, virtual or hybrid learning when the 2020-2021 education year begins next month, local education leaders said they’re weighing options.

Distance learning was implemented statewide last spring in response to school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler indicated Tuesday, July 14 that there will not be another mass closing of the state’s K-12 schools.

“We will need to have our plan down within the next 10 days to two weeks,” Wahpeton Public Schools Superintendent Rick Jacobson said. “Registrations normally begin by Aug. 1. We’ve got a short timeline.”

The district’s COVID-19 task force will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 21 at Wahpeton High School. Its members include school board directors, building administrators, Wahpeton Education Association officials, Richland County Public Health Administrator Michelle Eberhardt and district leaders in business management, buildings and grounds, transportation and food service.

Wahpeton Public Schools, which has four buildings in the city, is scheduled to have its first day of classes on Aug. 26, 2020. Task force leaders are expected to study the North Dakota K-12 Smart Restart guide for fall 2020 and monitor actions taken by other groups.

“If the state and region fall activities start up on time — golf, football, volleyball — that will give us a better understanding of what to expect,” Jacobson said. “Right now, we’re still not sure.”

Dr. Britney Gandhi is superintendent of the two-building Richland 44 Public Schools and principal of Richland 44 High School, Colfax, North Dakota. Richland 44 has a re-entry planning committee comprised of staff members from the high school and Richland Elementary, Abercrombie, North Dakota.

“We’ll be sending out a parent survey next week and a staff survey as well,” Gandhi said. “The school board will be discussing this throughout the next few weeks.”

Richland 44’s goal is to have a solid plan aligning with the Smart Restart guide, Gandhi said. Issued July 14, the guide includes color-coding for potential situations.

Under the red or orange scenarios, where risk is critical or high, schools are recommended to remain closed for general in-person instruction. All education must continue via distance learning, the guide stated. The yellow scenario has risk at a moderate level.

Risk is considered low in the green scenario and the blue scenario is when a new normal is reached. As of Wednesday, the state of North Dakota was classified in the green scenario.

“Schools may provide in-person instruction after developing a written health and safety plan securing approval by each district’s school board in consultation with the local public health unit and publish the plan on the school or district’s website,” according to guidelines for green and blue scenario procedure.

Jacobson said it was uncertain whether or not Wahpeton Public Schools will require students to wear masks this fall. Youth behavior and adherence to health recommendations is one of many factors under consideration.

“We know that some parents will be leery about having their kids attend school,” Jacobson said. “We’re going to have staff members who feel the same way.”

Enrollment fluctuations have been a recurring issue for Wahpeton Public Schools. Recent state funding arrangements have been tied to the number of students and Jacobson is curious whether there will be a modification in response to distance learning.

“If we have enrolled students who learn from home, is that going to be held against us?” he asked. “Do we get to count those kids? That, and the the staffing issue, could be a bigger problem. We’re going to find out.”

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