Statewide K-12 shutdown not expected for ND this fall

“I hope to never see another statewide shutdown,” North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler said Tuesday, July 14.

Baesler participated in North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s latest press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic. Comments made by Burgum and Baesler indicated there will not be a mass closing of the state’s K-12 schools.

In just over a month, the 2020-2021 education year is expected to begin. The four-facility Wahpeton Public Schools is scheduled to have its first day of classes on Aug. 26, 2020.

School boards will play a vital role as the “unprecedented” education year unfolds, Burgum said. The conference indicated that districts will make the decisions regarding whether or not to reopen or close.

“Each school board must approve both a health and safety plan and a district learning plan,” Burgum said. “Districts are required to take into consideration a hybrid approach of in-person instruction and distance learning to best meet the health and safety plans of all students and families.”

The North Dakota K-12 Smart Restart guide for fall 2020, dated July 14, is available at the Department of Public Instruction website.

“We have not yet had to manage in-person teaching and learning for 121,000 K-12 students during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Burgum, Baesler and Interim State Health Officer Dr. Andrew Stahl wrote. “We are entering new territory this fall as we serve a dual purpose to our state: the education of all students and safeguarding the health and safety of students, staff, families and communities.”

A clear theme emerged from conversations with stakeholders, according to the letter. There needed to be timely guidance to aid in planning for a return to in-person instruction and other services provided by North Dakota public schools.

“Given the dynamic nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, this guidance will evolve as further research, data and resources become available,” Burgum, Baesler and Stahl wrote.

As of Tuesday, North Dakota is maintaining certain assumptions, including:

• schools will provide instruction in the fall and throughout the 2020-21 school year

• COVID-19 may continue to spread throughout the school year

• depending upon local conditions, as reported by the North Dakota Department of Health and local public health units, instruction may be face to face, virtual or a hybrid

The conference came the same day as NDDoH reporting a third consecutive day for record high active COVID-19 cases, 720 total. As of Wednesday, July 15, North Dakota’s number of active COVID-19 cases dropped to 717 total.

Burgum said more cases was to be expected with increased testing.

“We haven’t moved any of the goalposts in North Dakota,” he said.

For local reactions to the education plan, see story on page A2.

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