Fergus Falls Superintendent Jeff Drake said Friday that District 544 does not have plans to cancel classes at this point in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the present time the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MHD) are not advising districts to close school,” Drake said. “That may change. They are recommending we limit large gatherings.”

It is Drake’s understanding that “large gatherings” will be 250 or more. 

Drake is the top administrator of a district that includes 2,500 students attending classes in regular brick-and-mortar buildings around Fergus Falls. Another 800 are enrolled in the district’s iQ Academy classes which are taught online.

Friday night’s Section 8AA boys’ basketball championship game at Concordia College in Moorhead between Fergus Falls and Moorhead was cancelled Friday morning.  

An all-school music concert which was scheduled for Monday evening in the Gold Gym at Kennedy Secondary has also been called off. Instead of a live performance Monday night, a video will be shot Monday during school hours and a link will be provided for people wishing to view it online.

“Any of our typically larger gatherings, concerts and other events, will not take place until further notice,” Drake said.  

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime state of emergency Friday afternoon in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and called for limiting large gatherings such as concerts, conferences, performances and sporting events.

Public health guidelines outlined by Walz do not restrict operations at health-care facilities, shopping malls, airports or libraries.

Class sizes in District 544 range between 20 and 25 students and recess periods generally top out at 150 kids. Drake’s one concern is in the number of students using the cafeteria.

“We could see 150-200 students in a cafeteria setting,” Drake said.

While Drake does not associate with students as much as other members of the administration or faculty, he has been aware that COVID-19 has been a topic of interest to both staff and students.

“People are aware that this is a set of extreme circumstances,” Drake said.

Drake told the Fergus Falls School Board last Monday that the district is in touch with the MDE on the control of COVID-19 and is closely following their guidelines.

President Brad Hoganson said Friday that Hillcrest Lutheran Academy is also planning to continue with classes.

“We’ve been proactive,” Hoganson said. “We’ve been watching this closely because of our unique situation.”

Hillcrest’s students come from Fergus Falls and surrounding communities as well as a number of other states and countries. About 90 students live in the dorm. For this reason, Hillcrest’s staff has always been concerned with the spread of flu and other diseases on campus.

“We’re always aware of the flu and we’ve restricted nonessential travel,” Hoganson said. 

Hillcrest has already canceled the spring choir tour which has taken students from Minnesota into the northwestern states. They have also canceled the dormitory trip to Chicago and the Hillcrest Invitational Tournament, which has annually brought more than 1,000 alumni and spectators to the campus. 

Hoganson is aware that in the upcoming spring break some students are planning to return home to spend time with their families. Travel in and out of Norway has been ruled out but some students will still be traveling.

“Some will still travel but not to any hotspots,” Hoganson said.

Hillcrest’s mission trip to the Dominican Republic planned for April is still up in the air. Hoganson said there is a strong possibility it may be called off but it may also simply be moved to a better time.

“We’re like everyone else in America, we’re waiting to see what happens,” Hoganson said.

Hillcrest students remain upbeat despite the sacrifices some are being asked to make and Hoganson is pleased with the response by members of the faculty and the community, some who’ve already invited Hillcrest students into their homes during the break.

“We have a great school and a great community,” Hoganson said.

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