Fargo School Board hears pleas for switch to distance learning

Max Sommers--Fargo Public School teacher
Max Sommers, a teacher at Ed Clapp Elementary, urges the Fargo School Board to switch to distance learning on Tuesday, Nov. 24. Screenshot of Fargo School Board meeting

FARGO — Emotions ran high at the Fargo School Board meeting Tuesday, Nov. 24, as two parents and a teacher took to the podium and urged the board to put the safety of the community first and switch to distance learning amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Parents are “dazed and confused and stressed,” said Lori Cline, a mother of four children who said her husband teaches middle school math in Fargo Public Schools. Cline added that large crowds have not been attending recent board meetings because such gatherings are not safe and because they believe the board doesn’t listen any longer.

Scott Paul, a parent who attended Fargo Public Schools, urged the board not to wait for the city, county or the state of North Dakota to “do the right thing.”

“It appears that the original data-driven plan was replaced by a politically-driven plan that shifts responsibility,” Paul said of the district's plan for determining whether students learn in-person or remotely.

Max Sommers, a teacher at Ed Clapp Elementary, said the stress of teaching about 195 students a day has led him back to addictions he thought he’d beaten. “And I know I’m not the only one,” Sommers said.


Part of the stress is the knowledge that although he gets tested for COVID-19 every Sunday, he does not receive results until the following Tuesday, and on Monday, he doesn’t know if he is putting his students and their families at risk.

Two weeks ago, Sommers was notified that a student in his class tested positive for COVID-19, and that the student was contagious. “The principal let me know and said all I could do was monitor my symptoms," Sommers said. "Thank the stars this was one of the students who wore their mask correctly all the time."

The district's recent unwillingness to move to distance learning Sommers said was an “utterly feckless abdication of responsibility.”

“You are unwilling to make a tough choice to do something that will truly put the safety of the public school community as the primary concern in the decision-making process,” Sommers said.

The board members did not respond to any of the speakers' comments during the meeting.

Fargo Public Schools currently plans to continue with a mix of distance and in-person learning through the holiday season, with a goal of secondary students beginning to return to full-time in-person instruction on Jan. 19. The district’s plans are fluid as the committee that makes instruction decisions meets once every two weeks.

Superintendent Rupak Gandhi and health officials have maintained that COVID-19 cases inside schools do not reflect the rampant spread of the virus in the community. Though, a lack of teachers due to quarantine or isolation and case numbers may force the district to enforce rolling closures of individual school buildings.

"Although we've seen minimal school-to-school spread, it isn't zero, but it is extremely minimal," Gandhi said during the board meeting.


As of Tuesday, a total of 30 out of more than 11,000 students and 21 staff members were COVID-19 positive, Gandhi said. Another 137 staff and 231 students were in quarantine after exposure to close contacts who tested positive, he said.

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