Slowly, but surely, West Fargo Elementary Schools continue to move toward opening classrooms full time, as no correlation between increased class time and case numbers has been found yet, officials said Monday, Nov. 23.

Harwood, Legacy and Willow Park elementary schools have started four-day classroom instruction in recent weeks.

On Nov. 30, Westside, L. E Berger, Brooks Harbor, Freedom, Osgood, Eastwood, Independence, Aurora, Deer Creek and Horace Elementary Schools, as well as grades four and five of South Elementary, will begin four-day classroom weeks.

Superintendent Beth Slette said the district has not seen a connection between lower numbers and a hybrid-learning model or in-classroom learning models looking at the schools that have returned to near full-time classroom learning.

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"We're not seeing a correlation in the state either," Slette said. "If that was the case, would we have to think about staying in a hybrid? Absolutely. That is why we are doing this so slowly."

However, staff shortages continue to be a concern for the school district trying to keep classroom doors open as community numbers of positive COVID-19 cases have sharply increased in recent weeks.

Slette said although case data for students is helping the transition from hybrid learning move along, a staff shortage due to illness or quarantine could cause the district to halt the transition or stay in the hybrid model longer at some schools.

The North Dakota Department of Health announced Monday, Nov. 23, that it would be rolling out free rapid testing for K-12 teachers, staff and administrators with help from the North Dakota National Guard. It is part of a pilot project to identify asymptomatic COVID-19 cases so they can quickly isolate and prevent further spread of the virus.

Testing in West Fargo began Monday and will continue through Dec. 31. Testing is limited to K-12 personnel; students will not be tested. On the first day, 256 staff members were tested. Of those tested, nine were found to be positive, which is a positivity rate of 3.5 percent.

"The hope there is we can help the community," Slette said. "So the folks who test positive are not going to bring it to the community or their families."

On Monday, Slette said she hopes even more staff members will be tested. The rapid tests are known to be slightly less invasive than some other tests and will provide results in about 15 minutes.

On Monday, Nov. 23, there were 133 instances of teachers who were out of school, although that was down from Friday, Nov. 20, when there were 161 instances of teachers who were out. Slette said those instances may have been a full day or it could have been one period of the day, when a teacher was missed due to COVID-19 reasons.

"There are a lot of numbers we have to look at," Slette said.

If the four-day in-classroom learning proves successful at the elementary level, the district's plan would allow middle schools to reopen classrooms in about 28 days.