FARGO — The Fargo Public Schools COVID-19 Instructional Plan Committee announced Monday, Sept. 21, that high school and middle school students will shift from a hybrid instructional model to distance learning starting Oct. 5 and continuing through Oct. 19.

Elementary students will continue with the current hybrid instruction model for the time being and district officials said they would continue studying whether elementary students could shift to more in-person learning in coming weeks.

Monday's decision was based on guiding principles outlined in the school district's "Smart Restart Plan," as well as recently released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicators and thresholds for risk of introduction and transmission of COVID-19 in schools, Fargo schools Superintendent Rupak Gandhi said in a written statement announcing the change.

In addition, Cass County's 14-day rolling average of COVID-19 cases was also considered in the decision, Gandhi said.

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Gandhi said Monday that at its next meeting on Oct. 5, the COVID-19 Instructional Plan Committee will discuss a phased-in approach for elementary in-person instruction. Between now and then, the district will continue to work with Fargo Cass Public Health to determine the conditions required to provide in-person instruction.

The committee will attempt to provide at least a two-week notice prior to making a change in instruction models, Gandhi said, adding it is hoped elementary students may begin in-person learning on Oct. 19.

The district's instructional plan committee plans to meet every two weeks to review COVID-19 specific data in Cass County.

Monday's announcement came at a time when the North Dakota Department of Health was reporting new pandemic highs in active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, as well as 287 new infections.

According to the department, 193 North Dakotans have died from the illness, including 50 deaths announced in September alone.

As of Monday, 3,210 residents of North Dakota were known to be infected with the virus, marking a new pandemic high.

Jenifer Mastrud, Fargo Education Association President, said Monday that many of the district's teachers have favored moving to a distance-learning model for some time, as teachers have started to see more impacts from the community affecting kids in the district.

She added that many teachers also feel transitioning to distance learning would require far less than two weeks to accomplish safely.

"We feel like, as a system, we could have done it in three to five days," Mastrud said, adding that the length of the transition period is significant because it has become apparent that when elementary students are impacted by the virus it is because someone older in the household transferred the virus to the youngsters.

"Getting those secondary kids to distance learning quicker might actually keep our elementary kids in a little bit more consistent environment longer," Mastrud said.

Other school districts around the area have also announced shifts to distance learning, including Moorhead Area Public Schools, which said last week that high school students would shift to distance learning starting Sept. 28.

In addition, students at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton High School and Middle School switched to complete distance learning on Sept. 14 and were to stay in that mode until at least this Friday, Sept. 25.

As of Monday, a spokeswoman for West Fargo Public Schools said the district had no plans to change its present learning model, though she said a change could occur quickly depending on what may come out of various upcoming meetings of district officials, including one scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 22, and one set for Oct. 1.