By Alicia Underlee Nelson
Citizens advocating for universal masking in schools report being told that school districts would observe a mask mandate if the health officer from Fargo Cass Public Health issued one. Fargo Cass Public Health officials say issuing a mask mandate isn’t possible.
“Fargo Cass Public Health does not have that authority,” said Justin Bohrer, Public Health Analyst at Fargo Cass Public Health. “A health officer is not able to enact a mask mandate over West Fargo Public Schools or Fargo Public Schools. As an agency, Fargo Cass Public Health is able to pass on recommendations.”
It recommends a multilayered disease prevention strategy that includes universal indoor masking for all students, staff and visitors. Other mitigation tactics include ventilation, COVID-19 screening, effective handwashing, and physical distancing as well as contact tracing, isolation and quarantine. This advice echoes recommendations from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“...THE FARGO CITY COMMISSIONERS ARE THE ONES THAT WOULD NEED TO TAKE ACTION ON A MASK MANDATE.”
Holly Scott, Fargo Cass Public Health public information officer, advised residents to communicate with their school district and school board members directly. Contact information for faculty and school board members can be found on school district websites. Fargo Public Schools is currently the only school district in the Fargo-Moorhead metro with a mask mandate in place.
“They really need to reach out to their respective school district and share their concerns,” said Scott. “At the end of the day, that decision rests with the school board or the school district.”
Scott and Bohrer explained that Fargo Cass Public cannot issue a general mask mandate either. That responsibility lies elsewhere.
“Fargo Cass Public Health is unable to enact a mask mandate,” explained Bohrer. “The governing body is the only one that can do that. The governing body for Fargo Cass Public Health is the Fargo City Commission. Fargo Cass Public Health can recommend mitigation measures, including masking, but the Fargo City Commissioners are the ones that would need to take action on a mask mandate.”
Citizens can also contact other elected officials. Bohrer advised Cass County residents to reach out to the West Fargo City Commission and the Cass County Commission as well.
“They are our representatives,” Bohrer said. “And they would ultimately make the decision for a mask mandate.”
After this article went to press, Heather Leas, Director of Health, Safety, & Public Relations at West Fargo Public Schools issued a statement on behalf of the district.
“West Fargo Public Schools will require masks if a county-wide mandate is put into place,” said Leas in an August 21 email.
West Fargo Public Schools does not currently require masks or offer contact tracing. The North Dakota Department of Heath notifies the school district whenever a staff member or student tests positive for COVID-19.
West Fargo School Board President James Jonas announced that West Fargo Public Schools will issue a statement to West Fargo residents on August 22. The district plans to announce additional COVID-19 mitigation strategies as well.
“Superintendent Slette and I will be releasing a letter to the West Fargo community tomorrow,” said Jonas. “It will have more information on how we are moving forward.”
“District administration is working with Essentia to develop thresholds that may prompt the addition of new mitigation strategies in particular classrooms, grades levels, or schools based on case data in our schools and community,” Jonas continued. “We are hopeful to see an initial draft from them right away next week.”
School starts in West Fargo on August 26. Updates will be posted as the the story unfolds.
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