Governor Doug Burgum says schools in North Dakota will continue with distance learning for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year.
Burgum says schools were closed two days after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in the state - and he says the aggressive decision was necessary due to the nature of close contact throughout the school system.
"Your close contacts may be everybody in your class, everybody in gym class, everybody in choir, everybody in band, everyone on the track team - we could have been in situations where with even a few cases, we would have had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of those. And when those cases happen, as with other states, and schools had to be closed for cleaning - it becomes a cascading set of challenges."
Burgum says the decision to not send students back to the classroom was difficult, but the right call.
"With the size and scale of this, we're talking about over 135,000 people who would be affected directly every day, and that doesn't count family members and parents. Parents of school kids work in nursing homes, parents and grandparents of kids who go to school are part of that 20 percent of the vulnerable population. And so we had tremendous input, we worked side by side and step by step with the superintendent, DPI, the North Dakota Department of Health, its Physician Advisory Board, school administrators, the teachers union, school board members, legislators, parents and students - all provided input into this decision."
Superintendent Kirsten Baesler says she supports the governor's decision.
"I appreciate the understanding that he has in what it takes to not only transition a building - a physical space - into readiness for students to enter into - but also the social, emotional and academic needs of our young people as we continue the learning. With this announcement today, our teachers, our families, our students, our building leaders, our school board leaders, are prepared now to continue that distance learning, the full continuation of learning we committed to on April 1st, and will be able to end the year strong."
Baesler says the Department of Public Instruction is working with the Governor's office on how to proceed with honoring senior students who are graduating this year.