The East Grand Forks School Board has voted unanimously to transition every school in the district to full-time distance learning from Nov. 30 until Dec. 14.
The two-week remote learning period aims to mitigate staffing shortages resulting from COVID-related absences. School Board President Brandon Boespflug added that he hopes the two-week shutdown also will help curb rising COVID-19 numbers in the area.
"I think it's just time where we do need to give our staff some time to get fresh," board member Tom Piche said. "Hopefully, our parents will help keep their kids safe and do the right thing so we can get back as soon as possible. Hopefully, it will only be two weeks, and we'll just kind of take it a day at a time. For our district, it's the right way to go."
The School Board will convene for a special board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 8, to reevaluate the learning models. At that time, board members will decide whether to extend the remote learning period.
Board members voted last week to transition East Grand Forks Senior High School to full-time distance learning. Monday was the high school's first day of remote learning, which had been expected to last until Dec. 4.
East Grand Forks Superintendent Mike Kolness, along with Polk County Public Health, also recommended transitioning Central Middle School to full-time distance learning at that time, but the board ultimately voted to keep the middle school in its current hybrid model after deadlocking on an initial vote.
Polk County Public Health Director Sarah Reese has said that a two-week shutdown is not enough time to meaningfully reduce a COVID-19 outbreak, which would take closer to three to four weeks. Kolness said Monday that while the district is not yet at a crisis point, the severe strain on teachers' mental health has necessitated the two-week shutdown.
"It's really hard for me to recommend that," Kolness said. "Especially in New Heights, I see those little ones every morning, and they need our teachers, and they need to be in school, but I also think we have some other things we need to consider. The safety and the mental health of our children and our staff, and staffing needs right now have caused me to make this recommendation."