Schools across North Dakota and some in Minnesota closed Monday, March 16, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but child care programs run by the YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties remained operating and they were expected to continue to do so at least through Tuesday, March 17.

The reason for that is that child care operations are viewed as a critical service that allows health care professionals as well as emergency response workers to do their jobs without having to worry about their own children, said Lorrie Thoemke, YMCA vice president of learning centers.

The YMCA's child care programming provides services at about 30 area schools as well as the YMCA's main locations at 400 1st Ave. S. and 4243 19th Ave. S., in Fargo.

The program was operating Monday, and YMCA officials said programming would continue through Tuesday. After Tuesday, decisions will be made on a day-to-day basis, officials said, adding that the YMCA and related organizations were relying on input from state and local health officials to determine the best course moving forward.

Thoemke underscored that the YMCA was strongly encouraging parents to keep children home if possible, as the reason for closings and cancellations locally and across the country was to reduce the number of large gatherings of people.

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Fargo school officials said Monday that they were working on a plan for how the week would proceed, and a schedule was released for how free meals were to be distributed to children beginning Wednesday, March 18.

School officials in West Fargo said they were continuing to discuss how the district can best provide essential services like academics, counseling, and food to students.

"As soon as we figure out how to offer the various components under consideration, we will be distributing an announcement to all stakeholders," said Heather Leas, a spokeswoman for West Fargo Public Schools.

Many colleges and universities across the region have halted in-classroom instruction, and many are turning to online instruction as they grapple with the challenges posed by the global coronavirus outbreak.

Distance learning poses hurdles

Distance learning can pose significant hurdles for K-12 schools, and the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction advises districts that if they cannot provide equal, one-to-one online learning to every student it is likely better not to hold classes at all.

"The issue is whether that (distance learning) can be provided to every student and that is a tough nut to crack," said Dale Wetzel, a spokesman for the department.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced Sunday, March 15, that North Dakota schools would close for five days starting Monday, after which officials will reassess whether to resume classes. The closings included CHARISM in-school and after-school programming.

On Monday, Burgum said K-12 schools closed this week by executive order will not have to make up the instructional time later this school year. The decision will ensure state aid payments to school districts are not interrupted.

“Granting these waivers ensures that districts will be able to pay teachers and hourly employees such as paraprofessionals, bus drivers, custodians, food service and other staff through this weeklong closure,” Burgum said. “It also will give districts the flexibility and financial certainty to include teachers, administrators and other professionals in this week’s emergency planning process.”

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Sunday that all Minnesota schools were to close by Wednesday, March 18, and remain closed through at least Friday, March 27.

Moorhead Area Public Schools were among Minnesota schools that closed Monday ahead of the governor's deadline.

West Fargo Public Schools announced Monday, March 16 that it will provide free meals for children due to the COVID-19 school closure starting Tuesday, through Friday, March 20.

Meals will be provided via yellow school buses, where families can grab lunches at the following sites from the bus:

11– 11:30 a.m. Distribution times:

Buena Vista Neighborhood: Near Community Mailboxes on Montego Avenue, Fargo

Berger Elementary School: 631 4th Avenue E, West Fargo

Petro Truck Stop Neighborhood: Intersection of 21st Avenue South and 49th Street South, Fargo

South Elementary School: 117 6th Avenue W, West Fargo

Willow Park Elementary School: 4901 15th Avenue S, Fargo

Noon-12:30 p.m. Distribution times

Meadow Ridge Neighborhood: 23rd Street East Cul-de-sac, Northeast of Meadow Ridge Parkway, West Fargo

Village West Dog Park: 4415 9th Avenue Circle South, Fargo

Rasmussen College: 4012 19th Avenue South, Fargo

Sheyenne High School: 800 40th Avenue East, West Fargo

Free meals will be available for any child up to the age of 18 (up to 21 if receiving special education services). Children must be present to receive the meal. In instances where health concerns keep a child at home in order to protect the health and well-being of the community, exceptions may be made onsite.

The ongoing distribution of meals will be announced as school closure decisions are made going forward.

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