ND K12 Smart Restart Guidance

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Guiding Principles

North Dakota maintains these assumptions:

  • Schools will provide instruction in the fall and throughout the 2020-21 school year. COVID-19 may continue to spread throughout the school year.
  • Every student will have the opportunity to engage in a full year of learning, irrespective of the spread of COVID-19 in a community.
  • Depending upon local conditions, as reported by NDDoH and local public health units, instruction may be face-to-face, virtual, or a hybrid.
  • Each district will work in collaboration with local health professionals (including local public health units), faculty, students, staff, and families.
  • Each district will make decisions based on the most current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), current status of virus spread in and around the school community as reported by NDDoH and local public health units, and in the best interests of staff, students, and families.
  • School boards will play a vital role as this unprecedented event unfolds. With the situation changing daily, good policies and best practices are as important as ever and the public is looking to their school district leadership teams to provide a unified message to employees, parents, students, and the general public.
  • Schools will take practical steps to mitigate the spread of the virus while continuing to focus on student learning.
  • Schools are congregate settings. Congregate settings are known to increase transmissible moments and therefore, are more susceptible to spreading COVID-19.
  • Each district required to conduct tribal consultations under the Every Student Succeeds Act will work in collaboration with the tribal leadership.
  • These guiding principles are not all-inclusive and are not intended as legal advice.

North Dakota expectations for schools:

  • Schools will continue to be a safe environment for students, focusing on both social-emotional and physical health. Local decisions will be rooted in what is best for students.
  • School districts should prioritize state guidance and utilize national recommendations as a guide. School administrators will make reasoned judgments to limit the spread of COVID-19.
  • School administrators will work with their school boards, faculty, staff, and community to communicate decisions and data guiding those decisions.
  • Health and Safety Plans are approved by the district’s school board in consultation with local public health units. Those plans are published on the school’s publicly-accessible website.
  • Schools will have a school board-approved Distance Learning Plan on file. School districts can use their original Distance Learning Plan but will include new information required and improvements made. Those plans will be published on the school’s publicly-accessible website.
  • Schools will take into consideration a hybrid approach to in-person instruction along with distance learning to best meet the health and safety plans of all students and families.
  • Schools will utilize the North Dakota High School Activities Association’s (NDHSAA) guidance for all decisions regarding school athletics, activities, and competitions.
Health and Safety Plans

Recognizing that each school district and individual building is unique and that all plans for the upcoming year must reflect local needs, each school district must create a Health and Safety Plan, which will serve as the local expectations for the phased approach to in-person instruction. The Health and Safety Plan should meet the needs of each school and must be created in consultation with local health professionals, faculty, staff, parents, and students. Health and Safety Plans must be approved by each school district’s school board (in the case of Fargo, the Board of Education) in consultation with local public health units.

Those plans must also be published on the school or district’s publicly-available website prior to the reopening of schools and providing services to students. Non-public, private, or parochial schools are strongly encouraged to create a Health and Safety Plan tailored to their needs and publish the Health and Safety Plan on their publicly-available website prior to reopening. Each district that is required to conduct tribal consultations under the Every Student Succeeds Act must consult with tribal leadership. There are 15 residential education facilities in North Dakota. To ensure the maximum safety, health, and overall well-being of students, staff, and faculty in these situations, we encourage residential facility administrators to implement the North Dakota Department of Health’s recommendations for congregate settings whenever possible.

Phased Approach to In-Person Instruction

The K-12 Smart Restart has adopted the color-coded guidance in the ND Smart Restart Plan. This plan categorizes reopening into five phases: red, orange, yellow, green and blue. These designations signal how restrictions on school, work, congregate settings, and social interactions will ease in each county. This color-coded guidance can be applied during the levels of ND Smart Restart to protect health, bolster confidence, and provide more security. It is likely that counties across the state could be in different phases based on multiple factors used to determine health guidance. Contact local public health unit for information.

Color-coded Health Guidance System – Overview

Changing Circumstances May Impact Color Designations

Depending on the public health conditions, as reported by NDDoH, there could be additional actions, orders, or guidance provided by NDDPI or NDDoH as a county is designated as red, orange, yellow, green, or blue. Some counties may not experience a straight path from a red to a blue designation. Instead, cycling back and forth between less restrictive to more restrictive designations may occur as reported by local public health units. This means that each district should consult with local public health unit and account for changing conditions.

Conditions for Resuming In Person Instruction

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), first released in July, is continually updating its science-based school resources and guidance, so please check back often for science-based resources and tools for school administrators, teachers, parents, guardians, and caregivers. In addition, in August, updated guidance was released identifying all school personnel as essential workers. With states, cities, and communities around the country experiencing different levels of COVID-19 transmission, jurisdictions should make sure appropriate public health strategies are in place to slow the spread of the virus as the first step in creating a safer school environment.  Then, in collaboration with state and local health departments, school administrators may employ strategies that best match local conditions and practical and feasible actions in their schools to help protect the health and safety of everyone -- including students, teachers, and staff. The NDDoH continually updates their School Resource page with recommendations for schools. These resources, along with guidelines from the North Dakota Smart Restart guidance provide the foundation for this guidance from North Dakota to allow local school boards in consultation with local public health units to measure and balance the risk of health and safety for students along with students overall social emotional educational experience. All documents will be updated, as needed, to reflect best practices.

K-12 Smart Restart Red Phase/Orange Phase

K-12 Smart Restart Yellow Phase

K-12 Smart Restart Green Phase/Blue Phase

Academic Support

Learning is the primary purpose of schools, and the ability to resume place-based academic activities is essential to a school district‘s system recovery. The resumption of in-person teaching and learning begins to restore normalcy to the school environment, which can be very important to the psychological and emotional health of students, educators, staff, and administrators.

When developing school district building re-entry plans, districts should use these guiding questions and resources to develop programs, systems, and supports to address the unique needs of each school community. Districts are encouraged to establish a planning team — in collaboration with community partners — to consider how the school district will approach re-entry.

More information and guidance on restart service to students with disabilities, compensatory education, and Extended School Year can be found at NDDPI Covid 19 Updates and Guidance Special Education.

District-Level Considerations

Staff, Student, and/or Classroom Restructuring – Guiding Questions

  1. Has the district solicited feedback from stakeholders regarding effective strategies of communication and methods of instruction?
  2. Has the district evaluated the effectiveness of district technology resources such as LMS, collaboration, and communication tools?   
  3. Has the district explored strategies to help students and educators learn remotely in the event of future restructuring or disruptions?
  4. Has the school board approved policies and reviewed new operating procedures to respond to future disruptions to building access?
  5. What options for new configurations might the district consider due to social distancing guidelines (examples to explore: blended learning, staggered reopening, alternate days (A/B day, am/pm rotation, etc.), scheduling options, class size, etc.)?
  6. How will the district provide additional support for student learning and transition (examples to explore: “Acceleration Academies” or “Jump Starts” for the 2020-2021 school year, summer programming, extended school day, before/after school programming, tutoring, etc.)?
  7. How can the district rethink the use of staff that do not have classroom responsibilities to support student re-entry and meeting individual student needs examples to explore: paraprofessionals, specialists, support staff, administration, counselors, etc.)?
  8. What planning needs to occur in order to meet the needs of courses with large populations and/or that have close contact (examples to explore: physical education, band, choir, extra curriculars, CTE, etc.)?
  9. What does the re-entry plan for the district staff (educators, staff, administration, paraprofessionals, etc.) look like?
  10. What planning needs to occur to ensure continuation of the identification of students for additional support such as IEP/504s, English learners, levels of service, etc.?

Special Considerations for Specific Populations – Guiding Questions

  1. How will the district sustain processes of identification of students needing specialized supports (examples to explore: students with health concerns or special needs, experiencing homelessness, living in poverty or foster care, English learners, migrant children, newly-enrolled students, gifted, pre-kindergarten children, etc.)? How will the district ensure it is meeting the needs of these students?
  2. How will the district ensure it is meeting the needs of students with special needs and those requiring accommodations?
  3. Has the district identified sub-populations of students that need specialized supports? How are these needs being identified and met (examples to explore: students living in poverty, special education, 504, English learners, new enrollees, Title I, health concerns, migrant, homeless, gifted, prekindergarten, etc.)?
  4. What supports or interventions are provided to those students who were not responsive to the distance learning instructional model?
  5. How will educational support be provided to vulnerable populations that continue to be high risk (or have family members who are high risk) and cannot physically reconvene? What might this alternate education programming look like?
  6. How will policies and the system support education staff that fall into a vulnerable population (examples to explore: allow teaching remotely, utilize larger classroom space where social distancing can be maintained)?
  7. What accommodations will be made for students or staff who are required to quarantine due to exposure or potential exposure?

Family and Community Engagement – Guiding Questions

  1. What strategies will the district take to build and/or maintain connections with families and the community?
  2. How will the district communicate and support families who are unable to communicate in English (or whose native language is other than English)?

Classroom-Level Considerations

Relationships, Connections, and Transitions – Guiding Questions

  1. How will the school intentionally plan staff connections with students? What regular, frequent interactions can be facilitated between educators and students (examples to explore: mentoring, advisory, group sessions, etc.)?
  2. What frameworks exist for educators to monitor how students are readjusting to school? How will they readily identify those having difficulty? What student-centered supports can be provided to aid those with minor adjustment problems? What specialized assistance may be needed for those who have major adjustment problems?
  3. Based on the distance learning experience, what classroom practices might be obsolete? What new practices are promising or have contributed to learning (examples to explore: meaningful feedback on student learning, active student engagement, etc.)?
  4. How will the district determine if students excelled or fell behind during distance learning (examples to explore: formative and summative diagnostic assessments, screeners, progress monitoring tools, etc.)?
  5. How will student progress continue to be measured? How will this be communicated with fellow educators (examples to explore: special education, Title I, EL, other specialists, consecutive grade levels or subject areas, etc.)?
  6. How will these results inform student-centered approaches to instruction and learning?
  7. How will distance learning experiences influence change in current assessment practices?

Special Considerations for Specific Populations – Guiding Questions

  1. What interventions are in place for all students? What interventions are in place for struggling students? What interventions are in place for vulnerable populations? Where do gaps exist?
  2. What is the individualized intervention plan for each student? How will focused individual education be provided, especially for vulnerable populations (examples to explore: curricular tools, enhanced learning opportunities, support to address unfinished learning, supports for early grade reading, supports for students with specific needs, emotional/behavioral/mental health screeners and services, etc.)?

Family and Community Engagement – Guiding Questions

  1. What communication tools exist for educators to stay connected with families? Were they effective? How will these resources be used to share information about school programming and expectations?
  2. How can each classroom support parents with continued student learning? What tips and instruction strategies can be given to families?
Considerations for Special Populations

Special education professionals and families are overcoming the stress and closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as they strive to serve students with disabilities. No plan to reopen can succeed without the input and partnership of the family, school, and community.

Schools and districts should consider how alternative schedules, extended periods of remote learning, and intermittent school closures may impact students receiving special education services. Schools and districts need to ensure that students have meaningful and effective access to the general education environment and instruction. Least-restrictive environment (LRE) considerations should be central to decision making.

Additional information can be found regarding School Reentry Considerations for Special Populations.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

This section will provide guidance regarding Social Emotional Learning (SEL). SEL is the process through which youth and adults identify and regulate emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain meaningful relationships, and make responsible decisions. SEL provides a teaching and learning process where youth and adults develop the necessary skills and attitudes that helps them to engage in learning more successfully, build supportive relationships, engage civically, and have a positive mental health. Thus, SEL provides a foundation for all students to thrive, where some students may need additional support (tier 2 and tier 3) to achieve positive mental health.

Considerations have been made for what is appropriate for all, some, or few, based on the unique experiences of how people experienced the pandemic, recognizing that each student possesses a unique combination of skills and environments which influence their development and well-being. Stakeholder layers include staff, students, families, and the community at large.

Curriculum and Materials

  1. What instructional curriculum/supplements are available to explicitly teach social and emotional competencies? To integrate with content domains? What is the evidence surrounding those materials, and for whom?
  2. What instructional curriculum/supplements are needed to explicitly teach student social and emotional competencies? To integrate with content domains? 
  3. How will the school district balance the social and emotional needs of youth to engage in learning with academic learning?
  4. What additional resources for SEL are needed?

Classroom and Instruction

Classroom Environment – Guiding Questions
  1. What classroom routines and procedures are in place/can be integrated to support SEL needs in the classroom (i.e. classroom meetings, classroom management strategies, etc.)?
  2. How do routines and procedures need to be modified to maintain physical safety and psychological safety while developing empathy and compassion for others?
  3. What instructional practices support SEL in the classroom (i.e. classroom discussions, cooperative learning, and assessment and feedback)? How might those practices need to be modified per health and safety guidelines? 
  4. How will teachers create a calm and supportive environment for students? 
Student Needs and Behaviors – Guiding Questions
  1. How will school district leaders help students reconnect with their peers in a learning environment? Socially? With their teachers? What will that look like in the “new normal” (especially for students that are more introverted)?
  2. How will teachers be prepared to address a potential increase in anxiety, PTSD, etc. as a result of the disruption to the students’ regular routine? 
  3. How will teachers be prepared to handle a potential increase in student behavioral issues as a result of the disruption to the students’ regular routine?
  4. How will teachers address potential bullying related to stigma associated with COVID-19 (i.e. individuals who are sick (COVID-19 or other) and return to school, general coughing/sneezing, ethnicity, etc.)?
  5. How will staff members identify students that may need immediate counseling?
  6. How will the teachers assure that students are able to reconnect socially with their peers (specially students that are more introverted)?

Adult Social Emotional Learning

Adult Self-Care Needs – Guiding Questions
  1.  What types of supports do staff (certified and classified) need to re-engage in the working environment? To feel physically and psychologically safe?
  2. What types of school structures need to be put into place to support adults’ social and emotional development?
  3. How will the school district ensure that adults are modeling good social and emotional competencies?  
  4. What employee assistance programs will be available for staff members experiencing mental health issues as a result of the COVID-19 situation? 
Supports Needed by Adults to Serve Students – Guiding Questions
  1. What types of training do adults need to fully support students? To identify signs of trauma and grief in students?
  2. What types of school structures do adults need to fully support students?
  3. How do we create an environment in which adults feel connected and engaged with one another? With their students? With the families?
School-Wide Procedures – Guiding Questions
  1. Who will serve as the school lead for SEL? Mental/behavioral health services? 
  2. Which data will inform decisions regarding social-emotional needs of stakeholders?
  3. How will the district ensure the mental health and well-being/promote self-care for staff?
  4. How will the district ensure that school counselors are only being asked to do what they are trained to do (i.e. school counselors may provide short-term counseling or small-group counseling but should NOT be doing long-term counseling)? 
  5. How will the district ensure coordination and collaboration between counselors, social workers, teachers, and other staff?
  6. How will counseling and/or psychological first aid be provided for those that need it?
  7. How is the district ensuring that ALL STAFF (certified and classified staff) are prepared to be aware of students social-emotional well-being? 
  8. What long-term plans will the district have for social emotional recovery as a result of the disruption to the regular routine (for some, it may take months or years to recover)?
Family and Community Partnerships – Guiding Questions
  1. How will the school district ascertain what helps stakeholders feel safe at school?
  2. What partnerships are needed/available to support student needs? Staff? 
  3. How will the school district ensure stakeholders are informed and accounted for in the decision-making process? 
  4. How will the school district provide emotional support to students and families that might have been directly impacted by COVID-19 (they or someone they know tested positive, had health issues, etc.)?  
  5. How will the school provide emotional support to students and families that have experienced non-health related impacts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (job loss, increase in domestic violence, etc.)?
  6. How will immediate, short-term, and long-term counseling options and outside referrals be addressed?
Child Nutrition

Through school closures, summer breaks, and re-opening, school nutrition programming remains a crucial support to students and families by providing meal services in normal and uncertain times. Districts should build on the experiences of the spring school closures in 2020 to inform strategies on how to ensure continuity of meal services through new and evolving contexts. As districts map out goals for what school will look like in the upcoming academic year, these guiding questions and resources may be used to inform decisions related to how school nutrition may continue to meet student needs in a variety of settings, especially when students are unable to get to meals. More information can be found on our COVID-19 Child Nutrition page.  


Research indicates that learning gaps will be widened and more prevalent due to the effects of COVID-19 on instruction. Assessments that are specific, can be administered in a timely fashion, and provide valuable/instant feedback for teachers will be most beneficial in finding and addressing learning gaps. A priority should be placed on guidance for using, creating, selecting, administering, and interpreting key formative assessments in the early stages of the upcoming school year. The purpose of this section is to share information on the different types of assessments and provide suggestions, resources, and guiding questions for schools to consider when planning re-entry. More information can be found on our COVID-19 Assessment page. 



The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided an economic stimulus to individuals, businesses, and schools. Under ESSER Fund authority, the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) will award grants for the purpose of providing Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) with emergency relief funds to address the impact the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools across the state.



More Information

If you have questions, please contact Joe Kolosky with NDDPI at (701) 328-2755.