FARGO — While North Dakota State University announced Thursday, March 12, that face-to-face class will temporarily stop due to the coronavirus pandemic, area K-12 public schools are planning to remain open.

“We have not made any decisions to cancel classes, but we are continuing to monitor the situation and we will be on top of it,” Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Rupak Gandhi said. “We will also be looking at whether there is any guidance coming from the Department of Public Instruction or other health concerns as well.”

In Moorhead, schools are already out for spring break, said Brenda Richman, executive director of community engagement and public relations. While awaiting word from the Minnesota Department of Health, area schools are undergoing extra deep cleaning and nightly sanitation, Richman said.

“I anticipate there will be some guidance tomorrow morning when we call,” Richman said Thursday. “As of yesterday, there was no change in the guidance.”

On Wednesday, March 11, West Fargo Public Schools canceled all field trips, excluding Moorhead, but have not canceled classes yet.

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“Due to ongoing concerns about COVID-19 and after considering guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the difficult decision has been made to cancel all out-of-state trips scheduled for our students in March 2020,” said Heather Leas, the school district school safety and security coordinator and public relations coordinator.

“The CDC has been clear that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases grows each day, some large gatherings have already been cancelled with more cancellations possible in the near future, and social isolation is one of the recommendations for preventing the spread of the virus,” Leas said.

Parents of Fargo students can choose to keep their children home, Gandhi said.

“Our school district always allows for parents' requests for students to be absent. We understand, and safety is paramount for us, and we respect the parents' rights to make any decision necessary,” Gandhi said.

Missed work will be made up, but if schools do close due to the coronavirus, new avenues to keep students involved in necessary studies will be investigated and implemented, Gandhi said.

“We provide them opportunities to make up their work,” Gandhi said. “But North Dakota Legislature doesn’t allow for a transition to online instruction, just per Century Code, we have some restrictions for K-12 education.

“If there are things for us to pivot or if we need to take a different direction, we absolutely will,” he added.

Dr. Paul Carson, an infectious disease physician and a NDSU professor, said that shutting down schools is an effective method for halting spread of any virus.

“When you put lots of people into one space, the risk is increased,” Carson said. “That’s why the flu goes away in the summer because school is out.”

Dr. Paul Carson, an infectious disease physician and a NDSU professor, talks about coronavirus at NDSU on Thursday, March 12. Chris Hagen / The Forum
Dr. Paul Carson, an infectious disease physician and a NDSU professor, talks about coronavirus at NDSU on Thursday, March 12. Chris Hagen / The Forum

While Carson refused to make any recommendation for area public schools to close, he did say that stricter methods for stopping the virus were used in Asia, where the coronavirus began. Such methods could not be used in America, he said.

In China, for example, health officials and law enforcement could gather artificial intelligence, such as cellphone data, GPS tracking systems, social media, and employment records, to track down people who came in contact with the COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.

Surgical masks do help slow down the spread of a virus by decreasing the amount of infectious droplets spread by the ill, but the data supporting widespread mask utilization is weak at best, he said. People misuse masks, and masks can be uncomfortable. If they’re worn for too long and not disposed of properly, chances of infection can increase, he said.

“If you have them, donate them to the hospital,” Carson said.

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