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Grand Forks School Board grapples with mask issue, receives update on facilities task force

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Members of the Grand Forks School Board grappled with the reality that social distancing in some classrooms throughout the district may not be possible.

At its meeting on Monday, Aug. 24, members weighed in on whether the wearing of masks should be mandatory. Some leaned toward it; others said current language, which outlines requirements, is in line with Centers for Disease Control guidelines and trust must be extended to staff.

They also received an update on what the day will look like for students taking distance learning only. Additional teachers have been hired to make online, synchronous learning work, district administrators said.

To maintain health and safety, the district is requiring masks be worn whenever social distancing is not possible, but “there may be some classrooms that do not allow for physical distancing,” said Catherine Gillach, assistant superintendent of secondary education.

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Recognizing that much work has been done to ensure the health of students and staff, board member Chris Douthit said, “There is still concern and worry (among teachers). I respect that so much, because it is their livelihood.”

Some have questioned why middle schools are not using the hybrid model being used in high schools, but Gillach said the needs of middle schools students, as well as their brain development, make in-person learning more beneficial and effective.

In other action, the board heard an update on the progress of the Facilities Task Force from Tom Weber, senior business consultant with SitelogIQ.

This month, the group has been touring selected schools where members can see examples of the challenges and benefits they have been learning about in earlier meetings. They have toured Valley and Schroeder middle schools and West and Viking elementary schools, and are scheduled to tour South Middle School and Discovery Elementary School on Thursday, Aug. 27. They are also expected, next month, to tour other schools, including Grand Forks Central and Red River high schools and Phoenix and Ben Franklin elementary schools.

The task force is running four to six weeks behind schedule, due to interruptions caused by COVID-19, Weber said.

Weber and his colleagues have led sessions on various topics including the condition of the district’s facilities, how schools are financed, and mental health issues. Other meetings, after the school tours are completed, will delve more deeply into school finance, potential project costs and project financing options.

He expects the group will be able to provide a final report in November.

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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