FARGO — Faced with an unabating pandemic, the Fargo School District intends to increase in-person instruction to four days per week for elementary students and return to a hybrid model for secondary students later this month, district officials announced Monday, Oct. 5.

Starting Oct. 26, elementary students, grades K-5, will begin attending in-person classes Monday through Thursday, with Fridays as distance learning days, the district said. Elementary students are currently alternating between two days and three days a week of in-person instruction.

Secondary students, grades 6-12, began two weeks of distance learning on Monday, Oct. 5. After those two weeks, secondary students will return to a mix of in-person and distance learning starting Oct. 19.

For the new hybrid learning schedule, secondary students will be in two groups with one group attending in-person classes on Mondays and Wednesdays and the other group attending in-person classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays will be distance learning days for all students, the district said.

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Children in the Early Childhood Special Education Program will start in-person instruction four days a week on Oct. 26, with classes Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays will be reserved for indirect services and meetings, the district said.

Woodrow Wilson High School and the Adult Learning Center will continue with their current plan and schedule.

The reasoning behind the changes to the district's instructional model stem from new research and factors that show the old model "may not be the best indicator for all decisions moving forward," Superintendent Rupak Gandhi said in a letter to families and staff.

"Since then research has changed because of transmittable moments, hybrid can potentially pose more of a risk to your situation for students and staff than in-person instruction, because of the potential opportunities for students during their hybrid days in mixing cohorts," he said.

Gandhi said that during Monday's meeting of the district's COVID-19 Instructional Plan Committee, which includes public health experts, the answer to one of his questions was that it's safer to have the same students together on a daily basis rather than to have them in a hybrid learning model where transmittable moments at day cares, or at shopping centers, were potentially more frequent.

On Monday, the North Dakota Department of Health reported the 14-day rolling average of positive cases per 10,000 people in Cass County was 54.87. The Fargo School District's model recommends distance learning for all students when the rate is 50 or higher, though officials have said that metric is only one factor among many considered when deciding instructional plans.

Gandhi said he has not seen area schools reflect the growing county transmission rates of COVID-19. “There is more new research coming out on the effectiveness of masks, and the last thing we looked at is the data, not only in Fargo Public Schools but other school districts across the state ... and seeing if there was a direct correlation or causation between the county transmission rate and what’s happening in the schools, and we haven’t seen that,” he said.

Gandhi has maintained all along that the Fargo School District's plan was fluid, and he said he's grateful that the committee is flexible.

"Therefore, the model will be considered, but will not be used as the sole determining factor by the committee. The committee will continue to look at a wide variety of factors, including but not limited to Cass County data, FPS specific data, and updated research and guidance for decision making," Gandhi said.

On Friday, Fargo Public Schools said in a Facebook post that the district had 10 new positive tests last week, which brought the district's totals to nine students and 11 staff members out of school because of COVID-19. A total of 150 students and 41 staff were in quarantine due to close contacts as of Friday.

North High School Principal Andy Dahlen wrote in an email to parents that so far two students, one reported on Sept. 2, and another on Monday, had tested positive for COVID-19 at the school.