North Dakota, Minnesota take different approaches to masks in schools this fall

“At this time, there is not a plan for a mask requirement for the 2021-22 school year," said a spokesperson for Fargo’s public schools.

Students leave Bennett Elementary School after their last day of class on June 3, 2021, in Fargo. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

FARGO — Decisions on how to return to school this fall in North Dakota are being left to individual school districts, while Minnesota has issued specific recommendations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging continued mask usage in schools for those who aren’t fully vaccinated and social distancing of at least three feet . However, in Fargo, West Fargo and Bismarck, public school students will return to class under a new normal and without mandatory masks.

Kirsten Baesler, North Dakota's superintendent of public instruction, said school districts will rely on health officials' recommendations for making decisions in the coming months. She emphasized the availability of vaccines.

“Vaccines are available for free to all North Dakotans age 12 and up. North Dakota families should consult with their family physicians when making decisions for their children to be vaccinated,” Baesler said.

In Fargo’s public schools, masks will be optional in school buildings when classes resume Aug. 25, said district spokeswoman AnnMarie Campbell.


“At this time, there is not a plan for a mask requirement for the 2021-22 school year. If that would be a recommendation, administration would seek approval of such a requirement from the school board," Campbell said.

The district will not offer its own virtual academy this fall, but will partner with the North Dakota Center for Distance Education to offer online instruction for families with certain needs.

In West Fargo, the school district's Return to Learn Advisory Committee has said face coverings are no longer mandated in school buildings and that COVID-19 vaccinations are not required for school attendance. Also, the district's virtual academy has been withdrawn as an option for students.

Accommodations will be made available to West Fargo students and staff who test positive for COVID-19, and they will be required to isolate for 10 days, according to Superintendent Beth Slette.

The district will no longer contact trace positive cases, but exposure notifications will be provided to families if there is a positive case in their child’s classroom.

In Bismarck, the school district will not offer a virtual academy for the upcoming school year, according to the district’s return to school plan. Masks are recommended when on buses, but aren’t required.

Steven Koontz, a district spokesman, said Bismarck's schools will be going back to a new normal. "We're going back to school without masks and essentially pre-pandemic status, but with the option for the school board to enact those previous COVID mitigation measures if things were to ramp up again,” Koontz said.

Gov. Doug Burgum said Wednesday, July 28, that although the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus is driving cases up across the United States, North Dakota still has a relatively low rate of transmission.


“North Dakota’s statewide COVID-19 emergency ended April 30. Local entities are best suited to consider CDC guidelines based on local conditions, including case rates, positivity rates and available hospital capacity,” Burgum said in a statement.

Minnesota officials issued recommendations Wednesday saying that everyone 12 and older should be vaccinated before returning to class or school activities.

Masks are recommended for all students, teachers, staff and visitors in school buildings regardless of their vaccination status, and 3 feet of social distance should be maintained in classrooms whenever possible, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The Moorhead School District plans to follow the state's recommendations, said district spokeswoman Brenda Richman.

Among other guidelines for Minnesota schools, staff and students who are not fully vaccinated and are returning to in-person classes or sports or extracurricular activities should be tested regularly.

“In-person learning is critical, not only when it comes to academics, but also for our students’ social-emotional well-being and mental health,” Minnesota Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said in a statement. “As we head back to school this fall, we must implement measures to protect the health and safety of all of our students, staff and families.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the state of Minnesota's guidelines on wearing masks in schools. The guidelines are recommendations for school districts to follow.

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