As of right now, students at Williston Public School District No. 1 are going to be returning to school as normal when classes resume after spring break on Monday, March 23
The district’s school board met Friday, March 13 to consider the district’s response to the novel coronavirus. District superintendent Jeff Thake told board members that he’d been asked whether the district was going to cancel classes for two weeks after spring break.
Many colleges and universities have already canceled classes for a week or two after spring break or are moving to online courses to cut down on the risk of the spread of the disease.
Williston State College announced that it would reduce campus operations for two weeks after its spring break, also next week. College administrators are asking students to remain away from campus until early April and classes are moving online.
“The question has come up: ‘Should public schools do the same thing?’” Thake said.
He said after discussing it with other superintendents, he thought the best course would be to wait until the state offered guidance.
“Nothing is going to change until we hear from the governor’s office or the Department of Public Instruction,” he said.
Other states, including Ohio, have closed public schools.
Board President Joanna Baltes said because there has been only one case in the state of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus spreading worldwide, North Dakota is considered low risk.
“We’re supposed to be in a mitigation phase,” she said.
Board member Heather Wheeler said people needed to be aware of how to prevent the transmission of the virus. That means washing their hands regularly, staying a safe distance from people who are coughing and sneezing and avoiding others if they feel symptoms.
“Right now, we’re at a low risk, so we need to be vigilant, especially with spring break coming,” Wheeler said.
The board might meet again before the end of spring break to talk about the situation, Baltes said.
Thake said preparation was important.
“The last thing we want to do is wait until it’s too late to make a plan,” he said.
The district’s decision was supported later in the day by a news conference where Gov. Doug Burgum and North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler offered guidelines for elementary and high school education dealing with coronavirus.
Right now, the state recommends that K-12 schools decide on closing on a case-by-case basis. The North Dakota Department of Health doesn’t recommend school closures unless there are COVID-19 cases in the community.
“The decision to close schools is regularly made by local superintendents in response to weather and other events in order to maintain the health and safety of students and staff,” Baesler said in a news release. “However, during a health-related outbreak such as this, it is recognized that local school districts look to their state health, safety and education agencies, in addition to the Governor’s Office, for direction. We as a state will continue to assist in providing the most current and accurate information.”