Grand Forks superintendent cites 12 adult COVID cases
Those positive tests have resulted in dozens of close contacts across the school district.
Twelve adults in the Grand Forks public school system have tested positive for COVID-19, and about 45 adults have been identified as close contacts, to date, according to Superintendent Terry Brenner.
Though some students also have tested positive for COVID-19 and other students have been identified as close contacts, those numbers in those categories and related data cannot be supplied by the school district, Brenner said. He signed a non-disclosure agreement with the state health department, which limits the information the district can make public, he said.
The Grand Forks Public Health office receives information on COVID cases about students, but “does not drill down to the campus level;” it focuses on county-level statistics, Brenner said.
He did reference, however, that COVID cases have been identified among members of one or two athletic teams.
Brenner’s remarks regarding active COVID cases, and how the first week of school has gone in light of the pandemic, were made in a livestreamed conversation with Korrie Wenzel, publisher of the Grand Forks Herald, on Tuesday, Sept. 8. The recorded conversation may be viewed below.
The school district has accrued COVID-related expenses totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, Brenner said. Some of those costs will be covered by a federal grant and some of it by a recently announced grant of $100,000 from the GE Foundation.
He and other administrators “are hoping the federal government and the state legislature will come through” with additional funding to support schools during this pandemic, he said.
“I’m really concerned about the ending balance at the end of this school year," Brenner said.
In other remarks, Brenner said the district’s use of antibacterial wipes has been effective. Students and staff have used about $20,000 worth of anti-bacterial wipes in the first two or three days of school last week, he said.
Students and staff have been “hyper-vigilant” in wiping down desks, tables, door handles and other surfaces, he said, but, from a budget perspective, the district cannot sustain that rate of use, and a spray solution, which can be made in-house, may be a more economical disinfecting agent.
Expanded teacher pool
As the pandemic continues to disrupt schools, it is likely to affect adults more than students, Brenner said, and the problem will boil down to keeping enough adults in place and working.
The district is exploring ways, with state education leaders, to ease these potential pressures by relaxing some requirements that would allow more student teachers to step into vacancies and “fast-tracking” people who are in the process of earning alternative teaching licenses, Brenner said.
University students, who have earned a certain number of credits towards an education degree, could be permitted to teach in Grand Forks public schools, Brenner said, noting that education majors at UND and Mayville State University may be among those who could teach where they’re needed.
The same process also could be used to increase the number of substitute paraprofessionals, he said.
With these revisions, Brenner said: “I am optimistic about getting more people in the pool” of candidates who could serve as teachers and paras in the district’s schools.
As of Sept. 2, the federal government extended the waiver for free meals -- lunch and next-day breakfast -- for in-person, hybrid-learning and distance-learning students through Dec. 31.
The extension of the free-meals program for all children younger than age 18, regardless of the free or reduced-price lunch eligibility, “is a great benefit for our families who are in hardship,” Brenner said. But, it’s critical that eligible families complete the application for free and reduced-price lunch form on the district’s website, so the district will receive government funding.
“We’re at the $3 million mark,” said Brenner, noting that a lack of these completed forms “would have a negative impact on us.”
In his visits to eight schools last week, Brenner said the year appeared to be starting much the way it was planned, including the near-100% use of face masks.
“People are masked up, and they’re taking this seriously,” he said, pointing to Grand Forks Central High School’s tagline, “Stay apart so we can stay together,” as an imperative that, if followed, will allow for academic and athletic activities to continue through the year.