FARGO — The head of Fargo’s teachers union, recently diagnosed with COVID-19 herself, is asking union members to not serve on the district’s pandemic committee, saying that political propaganda has drowned out teacher voices and scientific data.
Union president Jenifer Mastrud called Tuesday, Oct. 6, for the Fargo School District's COVID-19 Instructional Plan Committee to be dissolved and for pandemic instruction plans to be determined by Fargo School Board members, as tasked by the North Dakota governor’s office and state Department of Public Instruction.
Fargo Public Schools spokesperson AnnMarie Campbell said she could not address the issues Mastrud raised because the district had not yet begun conversations with the teachers union, also known as the Fargo Education Association.
Superintendent Rupak Gandhi announced Monday that middle and high school students will return to hybrid learning on Oct. 19 after two weeks of distance learning and that elementary schools will increase in-person instruction to four days per week on Oct. 26.
When asked by The Forum, Mastrud declined to take a stance on what the district's instructional plan should be. But she said the COVID-19 Instructional Plan Committee is not abiding by its Sept. 21 decision to follow the Minnesota model in which school districts track the local county's 14-day rate of positive cases per 10,000 people as a guideline for how much in-person instruction should occur.
The North Dakota Department of Health reported Tuesday that Cass County's rate was 57.52 positive cases per 10,000 people. 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.
“We are at some of the highest transmission risks and some of the highest levels of potential risk in our schools, and we’re not even looking at those data points anymore," Mastrud said. "We are looking at cherry-picked evidence from medical research journals, or cherry-picked data pieces from within our school district in order to make the decisions."
Mastrud, who's also an eighth-grade teacher of Family and Consumer Science at Carl Ben Eielson Middle School, said she removed herself from the classroom and began to quarantine when she found out she was a close contact to someone who had contracted COVID-19. She developed symptoms about four days later and received positive test results five days after her test.
“I would be remiss to say that my symptoms are not bad … but as far as lungs go, it hasn’t hit there,” she said.
On Tuesday, Mastrud, along with Keith Lehman, a high school educator, and Payton Thimjon, an elementary educator, co-signed a letter addressed to Gandhi and the school board, saying that teacher morale is at an all-time low.
“Over the last several weeks, educators have growing concerns about the increasing combative tone in our community toward educators and our public education system. The local efforts of protecting our community through a pandemic has taken a drastic shift to one of political propaganda,” the letter stated.
Mastrud is one of three teachers on the COVID-19 Instructional Plan Committee, which gives the district recommendations on how much in-person and remote instruction students should receive during the pandemic. Although she's calling for the whole committee to be dissolved, she said it's too early to say whether or not she will resign if it's not dissolved.
“We’ve gone through pandemic fear to pandemic fatigue to now pandemic anger,” Mastrud said. “People want their lives back at all costs, and I don’t blame them, but I also think the virus is going to burn through human wood until it has exhausted all of its resources. We just have to be diligent, but I don’t think our community is behind that right now.”