In a press release on Monday evening, Dickinson Public Schools superintendent Shon Hocker notified parents, students, faculty and staff of the staggered return to full-time, face-to-face instruction for all students — with some exceptions.

The decision comes after months of deliberations and considerations, with Dickinson Public Schools and school board members meeting in conjunction with the Department of Health and other state agencies to assess risks. Among the critical factors considered were population density, deaths, hospitalization rates, current active cases within a county and more, with school officials wanting to wait until the New Year numbers were released to make a final determination.

According to the release, a decision was made by the Dickinson Public Schools and approved by the school board on Jan 11., to return students to the classroom.

Currently 111,677 students are enrolled in the public K-12 education system across the state, according to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. Of those students, 61,986 (55.5%) are engaged in face-to-face only education; 36,112 (32.3%) are engaged in a hybrid schedule; and 13,667 (12.2%) are engaged in distance learning only — numbers that are expected to shift heavily toward face-to-face in light of the return by Dickinson Public Schools.

The tiered return for DPS students will be as follows: elementary and middle school students will return to school Jan.19; with high school resuming on Jan. 21.

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Hocker addressed parents who voiced concerns with sending their children to school, by saying that online learning options will still be available for those students. The move comes after North Dakota’s COVID-19 risk color changed from “Red” (critical risk) to “Yellow” (moderate risk).

In DPS’ Distance Learning and Reopening Plan it addresses the various COVID-19 risks and the procedures to be implemented by the school system at each color.

"In addition, we will continue to offer a full-time distance learning option for families who do not yet have access to feel comfortable having their students return to school. If you would like to discuss this option, please call your student’s school office as soon as possible."

As of January 11, there have been 4,152 confirmed cases in Stark County and there remain 82 active cases.

According to the release, students and staff will be required to wear masks unless they are able to socially distance. Hand washing and regular disinfecting of common surfaces will be deeply encouraged.

“Please know that the health, safety and well-being of our school community remains our top priority. We will continue to follow sound protocols aligned with expert health guidance to ensure we are doing everything we can to protect everyone’s health,” said Hocker.

Whether or not children should return to school has been the subject of debate since the start of the pandemic, with many arguing concerns related to safety, equity and personnel shortages.

A survey by CNBC revealed 27% of teachers were considering either quitting or retiring from their jobs due to safety concerns.

Emerging evidence from the U.S. and Europe have shown that there has been no correlation between the reopening of schools and a rise in COVID-19 cases — as previously estimated.

A study from Spain, a hotbed of COVID-19 at the time of the study, reported that nearly 90% of the schools’ positive cases did not affect others in the school. According to the same study, environmental changes had little to no correlation with greater or lesser numbers of active cases, quelling fears that winter weather could increase the number of cases.

Similar findings came from a Yale University study of 57,000 childcare workers scattered across all 50 states, which found there were no differences between the in-person childcare group and those that stayed home.