There has been a great deal of discussion over these past months regarding the Covid-19 epidemic and its impact on education in North Dakota and across the United States. While we all agree that face-to-face instruction is the best for most students, there is a legitimate concern about how to bring students back safely.

Job #1 for returning to normalcy is to flatten the curve. We do that by wearing masks, employing effective hand hygiene and practicing social distancing. For too long, North Dakotans have not put those measures into practice and the result has been alarming spikes in the rate of Coronavirus infections across North Dakota. It got so bad, in fact, that Governor Doug Burgum — to his credit — abandoned his reliance on personal responsibility to flatten the curve and forced the matter by issuing a statewide mask mandate. The results, so far, are promising, but we are not out of the woods.

To get us to where we need to be, we must continue testing, contact tracing and practicing the three W’s: Wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance.

Recently, a trial “rapid-testing” program that would allow teachers to be tested was launched in a few districts across the state. The test produces results in about 15 minutes, is completely voluntary and could be useful in identifying Coronavirus cases earlier than standard testing so that an infected teacher could minimize the number of transmissible moments after testing positive by going home until a more thorough test can be taken and the results known.

This program is not without a few important criticisms:

  1. The test is only 60% accurate.
  2. The test site is inconveniently located.
  3. If a colleague must isolate themselves, the workload for the rest of us increases.
  4. Kids are not being tested.

All of that is probably true but not insurmountable. Even if the test detects just 6 out of 10 cases, that still improves the odds that more people will not be infected, thus helping to keep schools safe. The test sites can, should and will be moved into school buildings to increase the convenience for teachers and education support professionals.

School districts must do a better job of finding qualified substitute teachers to share the load while teachers infected with the Coronavirus recuperate or quarantine. If they need help, they should be petitioning the state and federal governments to step it up and get aid to the districts that need it ASAP.

Students are not tested in ND, and many parents are reluctant to give their permission to do so. This is something that is unlikely to change. That should not, however, be an excuse to deny a rapid test to school personnel who wish to avail themselves of this service. Nor should the accuracy rate of the test be used as a deterrent. If we wait for perfection in processes, then we will delay the day when we can get back to safe and secure learning environments that allow effective face-to-face instruction.

Until next week, be well and stay safe!

Nick Archuleta

NDU President