The Grand Forks School Board unanimously approved a $10 million grant application to the state to fund the Career Impact Academy and voted to lift the school district’s mask mandate for grades K-12, effective Jan. 17, at its regular meeting Monday, Nov. 22.

The board voted to approve the school district’s Smart Restart Committee recommendation which also called for masks to be recommended, not required, for after-school activities, except for the Encore Program, effective Tuesday, Nov. 23.

Superintendent Terry Brenner cited the availability of the COVID vaccine for children ages 5-11 as a factor in the committee’s recommendation.

The district has “done well to keep COVID positive cases low considering approximately 7,350 students and 1,600 staff members enter our buildings each day,” he said in a memo to the board.

At this time last year, among students and staff there were 125 positive COVID cases and 796 close contacts quarantined, Brenner said. As of Friday, Nov. 19, there were 40 positive cases and 115 quarantined individuals. Sixty-four percent of staff members are vaccinated, he said.

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Bill Palmiscno offered an amended motion to discontinue the mandate for grades 9-12 effective with the start of the second semester, Jan. 3, and effective for grades K-8 on Jan. 17, but it was not approved by the board.

Regarding the proposed career and technical education center, the steering committee for the Career Impact Academy has raised more than $10.2 million, Keith Lund, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., told the board.

The state is expected to match, up to $10 million, grant applications for career and technical education centers, out of a $70 million appropriation approved by the North Dakota Legislature earlier this year. Applications for a second round of funding are due Dec. 1.

The Grand Forks application represents commitments by 72 donors and intense fundraising efforts over the past few months, said Lund, noting that nearly 50 volunteers and 1,500 hours of work, starting in February, were involved in the “pretty compressed” endeavor.

The first request for funds to support the CIA was made Sept. 13 to Altru Health System, Lund said. “To raise $10.2 million in just under two and a half months is remarkable.”

“(School district Director of Career and Technical Education) Eric Ripley drove this from the programming and facility standpoint,” Lund said.

Lund thanked the city for the contribution of the proposed site, the former Grand Forks Inn and Suites, near the intersection of I-29 and Gateway Drive.

“We had to have all that in place before we could sit across” from prospective businesses to discuss fundraising proposals, he said.

The facility will be owned and maintained by the school district, Lund said.

He also cited Becca Cruger, EDC workforce development manager, and Taunya Schleicher, grant writer for the Grand Forks school district, for their efforts in organizing and grant-writing tasks.

“There has not been a capital investment in more than 50 years by the state,” Schleicher said in outlining the CIA goals.

The purpose of the new career and technical education center aligns with academic goals of the High Reliability Schools framework, she said. “We know that student engagement is a leading indicator in student success.”

Mayor Brandon Bochenski, addressing the board, applauded the group’s efforts “to leverage private sector funds for education” and noted that fundraising will continue.

He thanked everyone involved for their efforts, promising to “turn this into something great.”

In the grant application, Ripley is listed as director of the CIA, and Scott Berge, business manager for GFPS, as its business manager. The Grand Forks School Board will serve as the CIA Board.

School Board member Doug Carpenter said the CIA is a “tremendous opportunity,” but has concerns about financial aspects, cautioning fellow board members that there will be a need for “further lobbying of the state for staffing and benefit dollars.”

“And deferred maintenance is still an issue in my mind,” Carpenter said, noting that the board should set aside money for that purpose.

Brenner thanked the board for its “thoughtful consideration” of the grant application and said, “This is a historic evening for not only the school district, but the city of Grand Forks.”