Superintendent Chad Benson, Hankinson Public School, neither confirmed nor denied Thursday, Sept. 24 that the district has had any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the past month.
News Monitor reached out to Benson and the superintendents of surrounding school districts in Richland County, North Dakota. The weekend of Sunday, Sept. 27 marks one month since most of Richland County’s schools began the 2020-2021 education year.
Hankinson received attention Wednesday, Sept. 23 when it announced the cancellation of football games scheduled for Friday, Sept. 25 and Friday, Oct. 2. No reason was given for the cancellation, although WDAY Sports, Fargo, reported that an unnamed source said the postponement was related to COVID-19.
Benson cited privacy laws when declining to directly respond to Daily News’ question about COVID-19 cases. Other superintendents shared some information. Many North Dakota superintendents serve as their district’s COVID-19 coordinators, acting as liaisons for their schools, local health departments, community members and media.
The Richland County Health Department has been amazing in providing information, Fairmount Public School Superintendent Brian Nelson said. While his district has not reported any confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or teachers in the last month, there have been situations where individuals have been close contacts for individuals with confirmed cases.
“I cannot speak highly enough about the department,” Nelson said. “They’ve been tremendous to work with, in providing information to pass along to families. The health department’s got a tough job, but Michelle (Eberhardt, public health administrator) and her staff having been amazing.”
“We set our restart program up spare from color coding,” Wyndmere Public School Superintendent Dan Dalchow said. “Every community’s different. Even if there’s a large number of cases in Kindred or Wahpeton, that doesn’t mean there’s a lot here. We base our decisions on our community.”
Dalchow reported no positive COVID-19 cases among Wyndmere’s students and faculty as of Thursday. That same day, the North Dakota Department of Health confirmed 41 active COVID-19 cases in Richland County. The cases included 13 between ages 15-19.
Richland County’s school superintendents indicated that in person learning would continue for the time being in their buildings. Lidgerwood Public School Superintendent Chris Bastian, who reported one confirmed adult COVID-19 case and a few students quarantining in his district to date, said following best practices has been successful.
“It’s so hard when dealing with quarantining,” Bastian said. “Fourteen days is a long time. We do have our distance education plan in place and we are using a couple different software for students who chose that platform, as well as curriculum available from the North Dakota Center for Distance Education.”
While Lidgerwood Public School has not been greatly affected by COVID-19, Bastian does advise parents to prepare themselves.
All the superintendents expressed satisfaction and some relief when discussing educating amid an ongoing pandemic. Vigilance continues, but the first month was not as severe as anticipated.
“We’re always concerned about the what-ifs,” Benson said. “We assumed we’d have to make adjustments, but that wasn’t really the case. We made minor adjustments and everybody’s been willing to cooperate.”
Daily News and News Monitor will continue to follow the 2020-2021 education year in North Dakota and Minnesota.