BISMARCK — The Bismarck School Board voted 3-2 on Wednesday, Aug. 12, to begin the 2020-21 school year with hybrid learning for all schools, abandoning its previous vote to start the school year with full-time in-person learning amid growing COVID-19 cases.

Burleigh County, which encompasses Bismarck, emerged as the state's COVID-19 hot spot last month and has by far the most active cases with 269 as of Wednesday.

With the first day of school, Aug. 31, quickly approaching, district Superintendent Jason Hornbacher recommended the switch to a hybrid model, in which students would have distance learning two to three times per week and the rest in person.

“As a community, we need to do all we can to lower our numbers," Hornbacher said in a statement.

Late last month, the school board voted unanimously and with little discussion to pursue full-time in-person learning.

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Hornbacher said in the statement that the district would not be able to sustain an in-person learning model for long if it were to begin the school year that way.

Bismarck Public Schools' hybrid learning plan says schools will operate at 50% student capacity and rotate between distance and in-person learning. Students will be grouped by last name.

Students and staff are required to wear masks when maintaining a social distance of 6 feet is not possible.

When the school board decided on in-person learning late last month, many of the board members emphasized the importance of in-person instruction for students' development and growth.

School board members Jon Lee and Donnell Preskey Hushka were the two who voted against the superintendent's hybrid learning model proposal. They dissented because they thought the elementary school should remain with in-person learning, said Renae Walker, a district spokeswoman.

All students have the option of enrolling in a full-time distance learning academy, though the deadline to register in order to begin the school year with full-time distance learning has passed. Students can transfer in and out of the distance learning program at the end of a grading period, which is nine weeks.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at