FARGO — As COVID-19 cases rise among youth, some local public and private schools are moving to distance learning after dramatic increases of in-school spread of the coronavirus among students.
The Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton School District and Shanley High School shifted this week to distance learning, which will continue until after the Easter holiday.
The West Fargo School District recently reported that it was on the verge of closing more classrooms after the district closed seven lunch pods and one kindergarten classroom due to increased COVID-19 cases among students, according to an email sent to parents and staff.
"The student side is where we are seeing the concerning uptick over the last few weeks. What we are seeing is corroborated by Fargo Cass Public Health," district spokeswoman Heather Leas said Tuesday, March 30.
In Fargo Public Schools, positive cases increased from eight cases among students on March 12 to 32 on March 26, but the district will remain in face-to-face instruction because it's seen little in-school spread, Superintendent Rupak Gandhi said.
“More than the lion’s share of the majority of cases we saw were household contacts or other sources. And the majority of the time when we have seen school spread, it has been because of our school activities,” Gandhi said.
“We are seeing a lot of individuals that are testing positive and have not been in school and infectious, and that was in part due to the fact that we had spring break and days of distance learning,” said Mackenzie McCormick, the district's emergency response coordinator. “But we are still having people that tested positive, and they were in school infectious, because you’re deemed infectious 48 hours before your symptoms start."
Shanley High School Principal Jon Spies told parents in an email, which was shared with The Forum, that on Monday the number of COVID-19 positive students at Shanley “jumped dramatically with over a tenfold increase from the previous week.”
“The staggering increase of cases indicates that numerous students were likely unknowingly positive while in school and in a variety of activities throughout last week,” Spies noted, adding that with positive cases at each grade level there was a “possibility that most students could be considered a close contact.”
In the West Fargo School District, 42 new students tested positive for COVID-19 with 47 unmasked students in quarantine and 207 masked students self-monitoring for symptoms as of March 25, according to district figures.
While most of the positive cases among students stem from exposure outside of school, the recent rise of in-school spread is worrying some district administrators. “We are only one case away from having to close classrooms at three other buildings,” a March 26 statement from West Fargo's administrative team said. “This new trend is concerning, and requires the attention of our entire community to mitigate.”
The Moorhead School District is currently on spring break and has no plans to change its in-person learning models at this time, said Brenda Richman, a district spokeswoman. As of March 25, a total of 14 students tested positive for COVID-19, and 103 students were in quarantine.
Despite the lifting of mask mandates in Fargo and across North Dakota, Fargo-Moorhead area schools continue to require students and staff to wear masks as well as maintain other mitigation strategies inside buildings. School administrators as well as state and local health officials encourage everyone to "stay the course" even as vaccines become more available, Leas said.
"COVID is still a very real concern in the metro," she said.