FARGO — Fargo Superintendent Dr. Rupak Gandhi explained Wednesday, Jan. 13, the instructional committee's decision to bring students back to school five days a week, starting Monday, Jan. 18.

"(In-person learning) was our goal from the get-go," Gandhi said. "Relationships between students and teachers are significant to the academic process."

He said the decision is driven by numbers, with recent data showing only 15 students and 14 staff members are out because of COVID districtwide.

However, students believe this is proof the current hybrid model is working, as they've started two petitions, which are signed by about 2,000 people against the district's decision.

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"This is where it becomes really challenging, because I do value students' voices and I value our staff's voices too," Gandhi said. "Now, I think my job is going to shift in focus to how do we educate and show, 'Hey, this is what the local health is showing us, this is what the data's showing us.'"

In West Fargo, elementary students are gearing up for a five-day week of in-person classes starting in two weeks, with 7th through 12th graders starting 4-day weeks at that time.

"Our students have lost more than anyone," said Beth Slette, the superintendent for West Fargo schools, on gradually bringing them back into class. "They've lost a piece of their previous year and so much of this year."

Grand Forks has the same plan it started the year with: elementary and middle schoolers in-person for five days, and high schoolers every other day. The district switched to distance learning at the end of the first semester on Nov. 30.

"We had five schools before we pivoted to distance learning for those 17 days that were hanging on by a thread," said Grand Forks Superintendent Terry Brenner. "It was patchwork."

Although the curves are flattening, all three superintendents say they're staying on top of the numbers in case they have to shut down again.

"We know that we don't have the ability to eliminate the spread (of COVID-19), but to mitigate as much as we can within our schools," Gandhi said.

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