MOORHEAD — In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, more public school students enrolled for a mix of remote and in-person instruction for Moorhead's first day of classes than in any of the previous five years.

And while students are currently in a hybrid learning model, health officials reported on Tuesday, Sept. 8, that positivity rates for COVID-19 are at a point where full-time in-person classes could be held within state guidelines.

Clay County had a rate of 13.69 positive cases per 10,000 people in July, but the rate has dropped below 10, which could allow for full-time in-person classes, Clay County Public Health Administrator Kathy McKay said. Clay County's case rate was 7.8 on Tuesday, according to Moorhead Area Public Schools.

“That is the number that the schools have been using to determine how they will start their classes. If it is below 10, they have the ability to do in-person, and if it’s above 10 then there’s recommendations about a hybrid,” McKay said during a Clay County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday.

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Moorhead's "Return To Learn" model says that on Monday, Sept. 21, grades K-6 will shift to full-time in-person instruction if local COVID-19 numbers stay stable. The district currently has no plans to adjust its Return To Learn model, said district spokeswoman Brenda Richman.

Any adjustments to Moorhead's pandemic instruction plans are discussed and decided upon weekly by the district's incident command team.

Third-grade students listen to their teacher, Mrs. Rheault, read a book to them on their first day of class on Tuesday, Sept. 8, at S.G. Reinertsen Elementary School in Moorhead. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
Third-grade students listen to their teacher, Mrs. Rheault, read a book to them on their first day of class on Tuesday, Sept. 8, at S.G. Reinertsen Elementary School in Moorhead. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

This year’s enrollment figures show that the Moorhead School District has 66 more students than last year, according to Richman.

A total of 7,153 K-12 students enrolled for the first day this year. Opening enrollment for 2019-2020 was 7,087; for 2018-2019 it was 6,987; for 2017-2018 it was 6,701; and for 2016-2017 it was 6,538, according to district figures.

For Moorhead families that prefer distance learning, enrollment in the Spud Academy was 1,299 students, with 496 in grades K-4, 478 in grades 5-8, and 325 in grades 9-12, Richman said.

McKay said COVID-19 cases in Moorhead may be higher than in the county, but the district will make its own decision on what instructional plan levels will be used. “There might be a lot more cases in Moorhead, but they can use that rate as one of their determining factors on how they do the models in schools," McKay told The Forum.

Superintendent Brandon Lunak said that after six months being apart, there were “a lot of smiles on the faces of students, parents, teachers, staff and administrators" on the first day of classes Tuesday.

“We are pleased to welcome our students back, whether their first day was in-person as a Track A student, in distance learning as a Track B student or virtually as a Spud Academy student,” Lunak said. “Although this is a unique fall with a lot of uncertainty, we are excited to bring our students and staff back in a way that protects our health and safety and provides educational excellence and equity for students.”