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West Fargo Public Schools releases more details of its Return to Learn plan

Published: Sep. 29, 2020 at 9:04 PM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - West Fargo Public Schools is releasing more details of its plan to bring students back to the classroom for full-time, on-site learning.

In an email to parents this evening, school leaders indicate that the current hybrid model of learning is increasing kids' exposure risk to COVID-19.

School leaders say pre-kindergarten through fifth grade would return to the classroom first -- and that medical data indicates they are the least likely to contract COVID-19.

The email also talks about how school leaders foresee using a “pod” system, where students are assigned to a small group of classmates to share space throughout the school day.

Here is the entire email WFPS sent to parents:

Good evening, WFPS families and staff!

Please see below for our ninth weekly Return to Learn update. We hope you find it informative!

Potential for Full ReentrySince WFPS released its Return to Learn plan, our goal has been to return students to fulltime, onsite learning as soon as possible based on data trends, our ability to adhere to safety protocols, and the sentiment of our stakeholders (both families and staff).

In her report to the Board at last night’s regularly scheduled School Board meeting, Supt. Slette expanded on this goal of beginning to transition students back to fulltime, onsite learning. Guidance from ND Department of Health (NDDoH) recommends that districts plan for student reentry in phases, beginning with elementary-aged students.

When considering which students should return first, WFPS would begin with our students in PK-5. The current hybrid system that was implemented as a mitigation strategy to limit the spread may have been negatively impacted by children attending childcare, before and after school programming, and activities while not in school. Recent discussions at the national, state, and local levels have suggested the hybrid model may be creating more transmissible moments (opportunities to be identified as a close contact) as children move throughout their days and week in a hybrid. The hybrid has actually increased their exposure risk as well as compromised many parents' ability to work outside of the home due to unsatisfied childcare needs. This information, combined with the medical data that indicates elementary-aged children are least likely to contract COVID-19, makes PK-5 students the most logical selection for the first phase of returning to an increase in onsite learning days.

It is important to understand that within our current model of hybrid learning, the district has been able to implement all five key mitigation strategies as defined by the CDC: consistent and correct use of masks, physical distancing to the largest extent possible, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, cleaning and disinfection, and contact tracing in collaboration with the local health department. If we increased onsite learning time, with all elementary students having the option to attend in-person the days school was offered onsite, the district would not be able to meet the recommended six feet of physical distance among students in most instances. While we would still promote physical distancing as an important mitigation strategy, we would be unable to ensure it 100% of the time. We foresee transitioning to a “pod” system, where students would be assigned a small group of classmates to share space with throughout the school day. A pod system would not be feasible in all PK-5 student settings, due to smaller physical classroom sizes as well as classes and schools with larger enrollments. Where possible, the pod system would allow us to continue meeting the mitigation strategy around our ability to contact trace.

Elementary families, please watch your email for a brief survey that will allow you to share your perspective on what your child(ren) would do if a learning model change was implemented. The survey will be taken through Parent Portal, so please ensure you are familiar with how to access your account. Responses through this survey tool will be one of a handful of metrics shared with the School Board at an upcoming meeting as they determine the feasibility and safety of bringing more students onsite.

In addition to local data, WFPS is gathering information from other districts across the state who have successfully provided their elementary students with increased onsite instruction. After a review of these multiple metrics, the Board will be considering the authorization of a change in the district’s Return to Learn plan to allow for more than 49% of the district’s population to be onsite while the County is in the yellow risk level. If a change in the learning model is determined to be the best course of action, families will be given at least two weeks' notice before the change takes effect.

Weekly Risk Level Status CheckThe district’s executive leadership team, School Board President, and lead school nurse are meeting weekly with representatives from Fargo Cass Public Health and Essentia Health to discuss COVID-19 data and trends specific to Cass County. This information will be used to make any warranted adjustments to the district’s learning model and safety protocols.

The following information was provided in the September 29 session:

Data from FCPH

  • 14-Day Rolling Average of New Cases = 62.5/day in Cass County; 367.5/day across the state.
  • % Positivity Rate = 6.2% in Cass and 6.72% across the state
  • The hospitalization rate continues to rise; some facilities are near capacity.
  • Our 14-day case rate per 10,000 people in Cass County is 48.21.
  • Active positive cases are highest amongst the 20-29 year old age group, which encompasses college students and young professionals.

Data from WFPS

  • District-specific data has been pulled every Monday and Thursday since the first day of school (9/3/20). Please review the attached line graphs to help you visualize our district’s COVID data trends.
  • Our current numbers as of 8AM on 9/28/20 are as follows: Positive COVID Test Result: 15 students and staff out COVID-Related Quarantine: 312 students and staff out Exhibiting COVID-Related Symptoms: 155 students and staff

Based on this information, there are no proposed adjustments and the district’s status will remain as yellow hybrid.

We hope you enjoy the rest of your Tuesday night!

Sincerely,WFPS Administrative Team

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