Fargo schools on brink of online only; board blames 'Taco Bell' pay for subs, community defiance

Fargo schools are on the brink of going virtual. That was the message from the superintendent. It's not from rising cases in school but a critical shortage of staff.

FARGO — Fargo Public Schools' coronavirus task force laid out a new timeline Tuesday, Nov. 10, for when kids will return to more regular, in-person classes.

Sixth graders are expected to increase classroom time on Nov. 30, followed by seventh graders two weeks later and eighth through 12th graders on Jan. 19.

"We do feel schools are a safe place," Superintendent Rupak Gandhi said.

It is a comment echoed by many school leaders across the state as case counts in schools remain low statewide. But giving kids that face-to-face education in Fargo is a growing challenge. Community spread of the coronavirus is increasing, and teachers missing from the classroom are causing schools to reach crisis mode.

"Now, we have to consider potentially going to distance learning because of the staffing shortages," Gandhi said.


Last week, nearly 100 teachers were not in the classroom because of a positive test or quarantine, and there is no help behind them. Half of those classrooms couldn't find a substitute teacher.

School board members say the district needs to use federal pandemic relief money to pay them more.

"In eight hours, you can virtually make the same amount working at Taco Bell than be a Fargo substitute teacher. Let's pay them more," said board member David Paulson.

District leaders disputed that to a certain degree. They say there is a fingerprinting backlog of up to six weeks, and they say pay is not the only reason for a lack of applicants.

"Subs aren't wanting to come into our building, retired teachers want to wait it out until COVID settles down," said Doug Andring, Human Resources director for the district.

Some board members pointed fingers at the community, saying they will be to blame if kids have to go virtual.

"I'm going to make the plea. ... We need some help, community," said board member Robin Nelson.

Consider "how simple it is to literally to put this (mask) on and stay home when you don't need to go out," said board member Seth Holden as he gave a demonstration of how to put on a mask.


School leaders are meeting with Fargo public health leaders on Friday to discuss options for moving forward.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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