FARGO — Fargo Public Schools and Moorhead Area Public Schools said Tuesday, Feb. 17, they are developing distance learning options in case school buildings remain closed for an extended period of time due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Rupak Gandhi said the district is working on a plan that, if approved by state officials, aims to be ready by early April.

Details of the proposal were not available Tuesday, but Gandhi said the purpose of the plan is to provide students with a meaningful learning experience even if schools stay closed because of the virus.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced Sunday that North Dakota schools would close for five days starting Monday, March 16, after which officials will reassess whether to resume classes.

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At a special meeting of the Fargo School Board Tuesday, officials said state law requires that students receive 175 days of instruction.

For the Fargo district to meet that requirement this year under current rules, it would need to resume instruction by April 2, according to Gandhi.

He said middle and high school students have personal learning devices that could play a role in whatever online instruction plan is ultimately developed.

Remote instruction for elementary students would look different, he said, and possibly include assigning students work they would complete at home and drop off at designated locations.

"There's just a lot of unknowns around COVID-19," Gandhi said, referring to the virus that has caused schools, businesses and events to shut down across the country as officials work to slow its spread.

In a late afternoon phone briefing with school officials across North Dakota Tuesday, state Superintendent Kirsten Baesler reminded school officials there is no provision in state law that allows online instruction in lieu of instructional hours.

"We should first recognize that there is a difference between offering students the option of accessing free digital learning experiences and requiring and mandating all students attend a virtual school," Baesler said, adding that the governor is researching whether an executive order might be in order that would allow online learning in place of instructional time.

In addition to giving staff the go-ahead to develop plans for remote learning, the Fargo School Board Tuesday approved continuing to pay most regular district employees while the district wrestles with challenges created by coronavirus concerns.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Sunday that all Minnesota schools were to close by Wednesday, March 18, and remain closed through at least Friday, March 27.

Moorhead schools were among several districts in Minnesota that closed Monday.

In a note circulated to families of Moorhead students, Superintendent Brandon Lunak said officials were working on how to provide a quality education to students through distance education "during this unprecedented time."

Lunak said those plans also include providing nutritious meals to students while schools are closed, as well as providing child care for emergency and health care workers.

The care will be provided in partnership with the YMCA and start on Wednesday at Robert Asp Elementary and Ellen Hopkins Elementary from 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. It will run Monday through Friday.

Lunak said distance learning will start March 30 and details will be shared as a plan is finalized over the next two weeks.

"This week teachers are determining the critical curriculum left in quarter three," Lunak said in his note to district families.

"Quarter three has been extended a full week," he added. "Teachers will be in touch with students about missing work. Next, we will plan how to move into quarter four in a distance learning fashion, knowing we must be flexible as more information develops."

To ensure social distancing and avoid multiple trips to the school, Lunak said teams are working on a schedule for families to pick up items like Chromebooks that students will need to begin remote instruction.

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