FARGO — Fargo public school students could be returning to in-person classrooms this fall, according to a plan that emerged Wednesday night, July 29.
A final decision isn't likely to be made until a panel made up of administrators, staff, teachers, public health officials, a school board member and a parent meets on Aug. 10, with follow-up gatherings every two weeks after that time as they review data regarding COVID-19 cases in the community and any other issues.
The plan also recommends that classes start on Sept. 2 instead of Aug. 27.
The draft 82-page "Smart Restart" plan, which must be approved by the school board when they meet at 8 a.m. Thursday, July 30, offers five different instructional options to decide upon, with the highest level meaning school would resume as "normal."
The second-highest level has in-person learning with a series of health and safety measures, including wearing masks that cover both the nose and mouth, frequent hand-washing, situating desks from 3-6 feet apart, assigned seating and self-monitoring for symptoms daily for students and staff.
"Everyone must do their part to protect others and not come to school if they are exhibiting any COVID-19 symptoms or are feeling sick," said that plan.
Besides the two "levels" where students are back in the classroom, there is also a hybrid plan with certain alternating days in the classroom, plus two distance learning options — one with very limited in-person instruction and the other with a return to all-distance learning like last spring.
If the schools are opened to in-person classes, the plan also has an option called a "virtual academy" where parents who don't want to send their children into classrooms again this fall could have students join the all-remote learning option. In the academy, the student would be required to stay in remote learning for the entire fall semester or if wanted the entire school year.
School board members will review the plan's details and could offer updates.
Superintendent Rupak Gandhi and the two associate superintendents, Robert Grosz and Missy Eidsness, said in a memo to the board that the entire plan took countless hours of work with teachers, staff, local health officials and parents providing input.
The plan was called a "living document" that could be revised with updated research or information.
Gov Doug Burgum had said earlier this month that he would leave the decision of students returning to the classroom or continuing remote learning up to each district in the state.
The Fargo school plan also addresses various scenarios in dealing with coronavirus issues in the schools if they reopen.
If a student must stay home for quarantine or isolation, the plan said "teaching and learning should not stop." The school would provide remote learning for students who can't be in school for any extended period of time.
Self-isolation for those who have a "relatively mild illness" should last 10 days from the day when symptoms occur or from the date of a positive test. The school will also abide by contact tracing regulations where students and staff within close contract with someone with the virus should self-quarantine for 14 days.
If not feeling well, the plan for in-person learning emphasized that students or staff should stay home and are encouraged to be tested.
A classroom or area where a student or teacher testing positive were found to have been in the school would be shut down and cleaned.
Also in the plan are instructions on what should happen if a student displays symptoms on a bus, as drivers are encouraged to watch for any signs of illness among riders.
As for hot lunch, if schools reopen students would be assigned seats that are spaced out to provide for social distancing and only disposable eating utensils would be used. Meals would also be offered in remote learning cases.
Since drinking fountains would be off limits, students would be encouraged to bring water bottles, and filling stations would be available, as well as bottled water, if needed.