FARGO — If Fargo Public Schools were to open tomorrow, the risk level would be considered yellow, the most complicated stage on the risk odometer.

Elementary students would begin in a hybrid learning environment, while middle and high school students would go back to distance learning.

“There is a chance that Fargo Public Schools will be opening in a hybrid level. We cannot provide desks at 6 feet apart and social distance,” Superintendent Rupak Gandhi said during the district’s first input session from parents on Wednesday, July 22.

“A lot of our students have fears around COVID and how it spreads,” Associate Superintendent Missy Eidsness said. “We would really need to reduce the number of students to maintain social distancing.”

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The Fargo Public Schools Smart Restart input session involved more than 500 parents, who were able to offer input directly through the online platform Zoom to the district, but was not open for public debate.

Although the committee that determines local risk levels has not yet met, the district’s plan will be “living” and “fluid,” Gandhi said.

The first day of school may not be until Sept. 8, which would allow secondary students to come in small groups and engage with teachers during the weeks between Aug. 24 and Sept. 7, Gandhi said. Other engagement days would be scheduled throughout August and September, according to the school calendar.

"We will take the feedback and continue to make a plan," Gandhi said. The plan will be presented to the school board on July 30.

The committee that will determine the local risk due to the coronavirus pandemic will meet on a weekly basis and include: Gandhi; Associate Superintendent Bob Grosz; Eidsness; FEA President Jenifer Mastrud; a school board member; Blake Mikesell, director of maintenance and operations; Doug Andring, director of human resources; Mackenzie McCormick, coordinator of safety and emergency management; three principals; two teachers; support staff; an epidemiologist; and three parents.

The North Dakota Smart Restart Plan will use an odometer evaluating risk levels, with red being the most critical, and light blue as the new normal. At orange and red levels, all students will be going back to distance learning. Yellow risk would be a hybrid model for elementary, and predominantly distance learning for secondary students. Green level is traditional learning with restrictions.

A virtual academy, which will be distance learning, will be available to all students from kindergarten through 12th grade, and families are asked to commit for at least one semester. The virtual academy will run independently of what the risk odometer reads, Gandhi said.

At all levels of the odometer, students and staff will be required to wear masks. Increased sanitation stations will be installed at building entryways.

“All the students will face their desks in the same direction and use assigned seating in all situations when feasible,” Gandhi said.

When the odometer reads an orange level, campuses would be open, but students in middle and high schools would go to distance learning. Small groups of students could participate in some events on campus, Grosz said.

“We are certainly continuing to look at this model at the yellow level and find additional ways for face-to-face interaction between our students and our teachers because we do know that is a critical component of education,” Grosz said.

When cases of COVID-19 spike, a shelter in place warning may be issued. No staff would be in school buildings, and all students would begin distance learning.

“We would ask that we work together to be nimble, as we may have families or staff that can no longer do their duties because they are ill,” Eidsness said.

Virtual Academy for high school students will be expected to follow the Fargo Public Schools distance learning expectations. If a secondary student decides to attend the Virtual Academy, which is connected to the North Dakota Center for Distance Education, an online curriculum, they can take up to six classes, with no more than two at a time.

“This would keep them on par for successful graduation,” Grosz said. “Most of our students take six classes during one semester.”

Subjects would include world language, aerospace, music, social studies, mathematics and other courses.

At the middle school level, the NDCDE would not be utilized, but Fargo Public Schools staff would teach, and students would enroll in four classes in the English language arts, math, science and social studies.

Additionally, all students and staff will be required to wear face masks when riding the school bus, and hand sanitizer will be available upon boarding. Families and staff will have to complete a home health screen before boarding every day.

Buses will be disinfected each night, and drivers will clean off hand rails, seat tops and entrance doors between runs. Parents will be limited to dropping off students at school no more than 15 minutes prior to the start of school. All water fountain bubblers will be shut off throughout district buildings as well.

During the orange and red risk levels, no buses will be available. When the odometer reads yellow, buses will run at 50% capacity, Gandhi said.