The West Fargo School Board approved the district's "Return to Learn" program at its Monday, Aug. 10, meeting, which will allow students to return to the classroom two days a week and learn virtually the rest of the week.
"I can not reiterate enough: Our goal is to get our children back in school full time as quickly as possible and keep our staff and community safe in the meantime," Superintendent Beth Slette said Monday. "We want to be back in school."
The School Board approved the plan with a 6-1 vote; Board Member Dan Schaeffer was the sole dissenter.
Board President Patti Stedman said personally, she would prefer students return to schools five days per week, but it's not about what she wants, it is about the best decision for the district as a whole.
Board Member and former teacher and coach Jim Jonas said Monday that before the meeting, he did not plan to vote to approve the plan. He said he wanted schools to open again as soon as possible. But after the nearly two-hour school board discussion with input from Essentia Health and other community partners, he said he believes district leaders also want schools to open fully, but now is not the right time and this is the best plan.
Starting Sept. 3, students with last names that begin with the letters A-K will attend school on Mondays and Tuesdays, while those with names that start with L-Z will attend Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be set aside for student programming and professional learning when needed. Each group of students using the hybrid model will attend class virtually three days a week. School officials set up the divisional system alphabetically in an attempt to allow families to go to school together.
"This isn't a year-long decision from the get-go," Slette said. "We're going to watch those numbers, and we'll get back as soon as possible."
While not everyone in the community is in agreement about how or when students should return to the classroom full time, the hybrid plan created by the district was endorsed Monday by the West Fargo Educators Association.
WFEA President Jordan Willgohs said his organization of West Fargo teachers was surveyed earlier this summer, and the majority supported a hybrid plan of classroom and virtual learning.
He said the district did a good job of collecting teacher, community and medical expert input while creating the plan with the most flexibility.
"Basically, everyone who is going to have something to do when we reopen has had something to do with this plan," he said. "It has been an as comprehensive as you can have group of people who could get together and help make these decisions."
Another West Fargo teacher, Matt Slocomb, asked the board to consider making mask-wearing universal, with little to no exceptions, and that professional development days, which will be Wednesday each week, be set aside for only two things: additional COVID-19 precaution training and distance learning delivery training.
"Although I sometimes disagree, I know you are doing the best you can," Slocomb said. "I want to go back to teaching full time, and personally I would send my children back five days a week, too. The classroom is a special place. "
Slette said there is no way the social distancing guidelines currently in place could be followed with all students in school at once.
West Fargo School District is expecting more than 11,000 students in the 2020-21 school year. Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Allen Burgad said there are 238 middle school students who have registered for full virtual learning and 266 high school students. Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Rachael Agre said 471 elementary school students have registered for virtual learning.
Staff is also being polled as to who will not be able to return to the classroom or who could do most teaching virtually. Those staff members will be paired with the full-time virtual students.
West Fargo High School Activities Director Jay DeCann said Monday that a restart of activities with social distancing protocols and fan limitations has started off well as summer sports camps wrap up.
School Board Member Jim Jonas said a couple teachers who had quarantined themselves came in contact with students. DeCann confirmed some kids who attended camps notified the district they quarantined, but there have been zero students who tested positive for the virus as of Monday.
DeCann said there are about 40 students registered for soccer, 100-109 in football, girls golf has about 13 and boys golf has around 14.
"Actually, some of our sports participation is up," he said.
Gov. Doug Burgum announced July 14 it would be up to school districts to decide how to return to school in the fall, whether it be in-person, by virtual learning or a hybrid of the two.
On July 31, Slette released the details of the West Fargo Public Schools plan.
Under the proposed plan:
- The district will provide transportation for students.
- All back-to-school nights are canceled.
- Students must wear masks in hallways while moving between classes.
- Families will be contacted regarding snow days, but all students will have instruction on snow days using online learning.
- If a student uses both on-site and online learning, the aim will be to have the same teacher for both.
- The last day of school is scheduled for Thursday, May 27, 2021.