FARGO — Despite its tough talk response, the West Fargo School District continues to endanger its students and teachers with its weak approach to COVID-19. That’s the opinion of many teachers and doctors.

This school year, there’s little contact tracing, and numerous exposure notices are sent out too late. One teacher showed me a notice that the teacher received two weeks after a student was infected.

“Last year, we would get phone calls from principals on the day they received a positive case. This year, the principals don’t call and the notification is too late. It’s useless,” that teacher said. “Last year when there were positive cases, we had to submit seating charts, and they would contact people who sat near that infected student. They’re not doing that this year. We have kids gone for two weeks that are marked as excused, and they will come back and tell us they had COVID. That just didn’t happen last year.”

“I’ve had many students go from being marked as excused to being marked as quarantined this year,” said another teacher. “That never happened last year.”

The optional mask-wearing policy is a farce. Several teachers say they have two students or fewer per class wearing masks. “I am 100% certain there are sick kids in class and not getting tested,” a third teacher said. “I would like to offer kids a mask, but I’m afraid that will get me in trouble.”

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Another farce is the “North Dakota Healthy Return to Learning team” that West Fargo district leaders use to justify their policies. That three-person team is in western North Dakota, and has only one doctor. That retired doctor is not an infectious disease specialist.

In contrast, West Fargo district leaders ignore the expertise of many local doctors from Essentia and Sanford Health Systems, and Fargo Cass Public Health. West Fargo goes with the “Healthy Return” team because it tells them what they want to hear. Essentia, Sanford and Fargo Cass Public Health tell them what they need to hear.

“I don’t understand what the learn team is doing,” said Fargo Dr. Grant Syverson, the advocacy chair of the North Dakota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “The COVID recommendations used by the return to learn team and West Fargo public schools are reactionary, ineffective, and dangerous.”

“Using that return team is like when a child doesn’t like what mom said, so he asks dad,” said Dr. Chris Pribula, who treats COVID-19 patients at Fargo’s Sanford Hospital. “It’s frustrating, because we tell them they need to require masks, and now COVID is spreading rapidly. It feels like a giant middle finger to health care workers fighting COVID.”

District leaders say they can’t prevent COVID infected students from coming to school. Still, they can do something to prevent those students from spreading the virus to other students and teachers. They can require masks.

Until district leaders rely on real local medical experts, and until they acknowledge how terrified their teachers and parents are, they will be on a collision course with this virus.

Click here for more from columnist Jim Shaw.

Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director. Email jimshawtv@gmail.com