BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Schools in North Dakota may reopen this fall for face-to-face learning amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic if districts approve and consult with local health officials, Gov. Doug Burgum announced Tuesday.
School districts also must prepare online learning plans in addition to classroom instruction and a “hybrid” of the two, Burgum said.
The first-term Republican cited “low positivity rates” and a “committed, vigilant population” for the move to open schools.
No document outlining the guidance was immediately released Tuesday.
Burgum closed all public and private K-12 schools indefinitely in March by executive order but amended it later to allow ceremonies on school property and summer classes with proper social distancing and other safety precautions.
Decisions ultimately were left to local school officials. Summer classes did not prohibit schools from offering instruction by distance learning, instead of face-to-face instruction in buildings.
Burgum and state School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said the new guidance unveiled Tuesday was built on the earlier guidance and was done in consultation of educators, school boards and parents and students.
The guidance applies both to public and nonpublic schools.
Baesler said the guidance would allow local school officials to start classes when they chose, either earlier “to bank some time” should an outbreak occur, or later if more time is needed to put a reopening plan in place.
Fargo Public Schools spokeswoman AnnMarie Campbell said school officials met Tuesday to discuss “re-entry plans” in anticipation of Burgum’s announcement.
Campbell said the district, the second-largest behind Bismarck, would craft its own plan based on the governor’s guidelines. The district would then present the plan to staff and parents and ask for feedback over the next few weeks, she said.
North Dakota has 11 public universities and colleges. University system spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorius said the schools also are slated to reopen this fall, with precautions.
Burgum’s guidelines come as the state reported a near-record number of hospitalizations and its 88th death due to the virus.
The North Dakota Department of Health said 42 people are currently hospitalized, down one from the record set on Monday.
North Dakota has confirmed 4,493 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
Nearly 235,500 people have been tested for the coronavirus in North Dakota, including 2,427 since Monday.
According to Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science, the state’s rolling 14-day average for positivity rate was 5.1 percent on Monday, up from 2.7 % from two weeks earlier; a rising positivity rate is an indication of community spread.
State health officials said North Dakota’s daily positivity rate was 2.3% on Tuesday.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
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