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Bismarck schools ready for distance learning

Bismarck Public Schools’ distance learning plan has been accepted by the state Department of Public Instruction.

Bismarck is the largest school district in the state, with 13,500 students.

Once Governor Burgum ordered school buildings closed, and told local school districts to work on alternative methods of delivering classes, the district went to work.

"It's a pretty comprehensive plan," said BPS director of professional learning Brittany Upton. "It covers everything from operations, instructional plans, health and wellness."

Upton said there are some service assurances, for special education. And she said this will also cover human resources.

"It's an extensive document," Upton said.

Bismarck School Superintendent Jason Hornbacher said it took some work to get to this point.

"We called in all of our administrators, along with our instructional coaches, library media spceialists, our technology department," Hornbacher said. "We had probably about 100 people meet, and we did some brainstorming about what school would look like in a virtual environment."

Upton said there were a lot of discussions about what distance learning means in the district. She said one of the main principals of the plan is keeping things are familiar as possible for students and staff.

"There's a lot of flashy, free and new tools available to us daily," Upton said. "We're getting blasted with communications, e-mails and advertisements."

Hornbacher said it took some effort to get used to having “virtual” meetings – but people got used to it very quickly.

"Some of us are extroverts, and really like the face-to-face contact," Hornbacher said. "You have to learn to live in an environment where it's a little bit more isolated, and sometimes a little less personal."

Hornbacher said the plan is flexible enough to change with the needs of 13,500 children, as well as staff.

"We'll become better and better on this distance learning platform," Hornbacher said. "And we'll meet the kids' needs that are very individualized and very personalized."

Hornbacher credits the staff and the school board for coming together and working through the plan during a difficult time.

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