Grand Forks Public Schools reported a 3.3% COVID positivity rate among its students and certified staff on Friday, Nov. 13. The figure is based on a 14-day average, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 13.

In the past two weeks, 1,509 students and certified staff have been identified as “close contacts,” according to an email from the school district. Certified staff members include teachers, counselors, social workers, occupational and physical therapists, and building administrators.

Also Friday, Superintendent Terry Brenner said that the School Board will be presented with a plan Monday to move to distance learning for a span between Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. Brenner made the announcement in a video that was distributed within the district at approximately 4:30 p.m. Friday.

"Here is the plan that will be presented to the School Board Monday," Brenner said in the video. "We will use Nov. 23th, 24th and 25th ... as teacher preparation days to shift to distance learning, effective Monday, Nov. 30, through Tuesday, Dec. 22. The total number of planned distance learning instructional days is 17, within that window of time."

Face-to-face learning would resume Jan. 4, after the holiday break.

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Before the plan is official, it will require board approval.

Regarding the district's numbers released Friday, the 3.3% positivity rate in a pool of about 7,000 students and staff members equates to 234 individuals. Most of these individuals would be in the face-to-face learning model, but depending on the time period, could include individuals in the distance learning model, said Tracy Jentz, communications officer for the district.

Two weeks ago, on Oct. 30, the district reported a positivity rate of 1.4%, or just under 100 people.

At that time, the district reported that close contacts totaled 883, or about one out of eight people in a pool of 6,961 individuals, the Herald reported.

These statistics will likely be an important factor in the discussion when the Grand Forks School Board meets in a special session set for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16. Due to limited seating, the public is strongly encouraged to watch the proceedings via livestream broadcast on the school district's YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/c/gfschools.

The meeting has been called to consider various options and scenarios for shifting to an online learning model -- and if or when to make that shift.

The board will consider input it has received from public health officials, teachers, parents and other stakeholders.

Vice President Eric Lunn said it’s important for the members to listen to all voices on this issue, noting that he’s aware of the pressure on parents, especially single mothers who are struggling during this pandemic.

“The (COVID positive case) numbers around us are growing exponentially,” Brenner said during the recent School Board meeting, where a lengthy discussion on the best course of action ensued.

As those numbers grow, and teacher absences accumulate, “it’s been all hands on deck to keep schools open,” he said. “Principals are telling us, we can make it through another day, or we can’t make it through another day.”

For months, school administrators and School Board members have been fielding input from stakeholders with divergent opinions.

“There are parents who want to stay the course and teachers who want to pivot” to online only, Brenner told board members, noting that public health officials, with whom he regularly meets, maintain that “the best and safest place for kids is in schools.”

He recognizes that “not everyone is going to agree with the decision” that may be coming. However, “at what point is the ‘ask’ too much for teachers to fill in for each other?” Brenner questioned. “We’re seeing fatigue really hit our staff.”