BISMARCK — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is expected to announce on Tuesday, July 14, guidelines for the state's K-12 schools this fall.
Burgum's announcement on schools will come as the state weathers a rising number of active COVID-19 cases and virus-related hospitalizations. More than 700 North Dakota residents are currently infected with the illness, though the state's rate of positive tests remains lower than in virus hot spots like Florida and Texas.
West Fargo Public Schools administrators wrote in an email to parents and staff that Burgum will likely deliver guidance to schools on Tuesday. Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki confirmed that the governor will address the topic at a 3:30 p.m. Tuesday news conference, but he declined to give any specifics on what the announcement will include. The news conference will be streamed live tomorrow.
Burgum ordered all schools in the state closed on March 15, a few days after the state saw its first case of COVID-19. Several weeks later, every school in the state introduced a distinct distance learning plan.
Schools remained closed through the end of the school year, however all were allowed to reopen starting June 1 for attendance-limited summer classes, driver's education, child care and standardized testing preparation. Burgum called the summer plan a "soft opening" in anticipation of a larger-scale reopening in the fall.
The governor has noted previously that in devising a reopening blueprint, officials must consider that some students, teachers and school staff are vulnerable to suffering a serious illness from COVID-19. However, Burgum has also said that he would like to see as many students as possible return to in-person classes in the fall.
Mike Heilman, executive director of North Dakota Small Organized Schools — an organization that represents rural schools in the state — said many rural school districts are in favor of in-person instruction, especially because there are few COVID-19 cases in their counties.
"First and foremost, (superintendents) want everybody to be safe," Heilman said. "Their first charge is safety for the children that they educate, but if they can do that and if they can ensure (students') safety to the best of their ability in this environment, then they'd like to be back in school face-to-face."
The key to reopening schools is to ensure districts have access to specific and reliable data about coronavirus prevalence in the area, said Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United teachers association. Ultimately, the goal is to not just reopen schools in the fall, but to keep them open the whole school year, he said.
Archuleta said that to ensure schools have the resources to keep everyone healthy, the federal and state government will need to provide adequate funding.
Archuleta said he is personally in favor of everyone wearing masks while in school, and that he encourages districts to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to ensure safety.
North Dakota Department of Public Instruction spokesman Dale Wetzel said last month that the guidelines for schools will likely include a high degree of local control that allows school board officials and superintendents to make decisions based on the prevalence of COVID-19 in their community.