No one wants to return to in-person teaching and learning more than North Dakota’s professional educators. The women and men who have dedicated their lives to educating our future know better than anyone about the physical, intellectual, and psychological benefits that in-person instruction affords our children. But no matter how anxious we are to return to the classroom and meet face to face with our students, we must do so only when we have mitigated the risk to the health of students and staff to the greatest extent possible.
In leaving the responsibility to local school officials to develop the practices and protocols for the reopening of their schools, Governor Doug Burgum has avoided a state dictated one-size-fits-all mandate. Instead, Gov. Burgum and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler have provided guidance to districts to assist them in the creation of their reopening plans. Now it is up to the district to do the heavy lifting and plan for reopening our schools.
To that end, it is imperative that each school district include the many talented and caring people in each community to build their reopening strategies. Every reopening team or task force should include educators, education support professionals, students, community members, and health professionals. And each plan must be transparent to create confidence in the community that every precaution has been taken to ensure that our schools are safe and will remain so for as long as they are open.
There are many issues that need to be addressed as these protocols are developed:
- What will schools do if a child is infected? How about a teacher?
- If a teacher is forced into a 14-day quarantine because a child or colleague contracts the virus, will the teacher have to use his or her sick days?
- Will the Center for Disease Control guidelines for wearing masks and social distancing be applied in every school in each district?
- What key data points will be monitored to inform the decisions of reopening teams?
- What if only 60% of parents feel that our schools are safe and 40% do not and choose to have the district distance learning for their children? Will teachers be expected to have two preps for each class?
- Will students and staff have reliable and effective personal protection equipment?
- What will be the trigger that sends all students home and reinstates distance learning?
There are more questions than answers at this point. Some districts, where the Coronavirus is rare, may open this fall as they always have with few modifications. Other schools where infection rates are climbing, may be wise to delay opening their schools until there is a period of declining infection rates to best ensure that schools will be healthy places in which to learn and work.
But we should not look only to school districts to mitigate risk. We all have a role to play and it is inexpensive, easy to do, and effective. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Socially distance. On July 14, CDC Director, Dr. Robert Redfield said, “If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I think in four, six, eight weeks we could bring this epidemic under control.”
Finally, we need Congress to act now get our school districts and local governments the necessary resources to effectively mitigate the health threat we currently face. The HEROES Act, which is currently languishing in the Senate, includes those resources. If that is not the vehicle they want, then the Senate has the responsibility to propose another and time is of the essence.
ND United President