With the beginning of school right around the corner, final preparations are being made regarding the practices and protocols that will be employed to ensure that students and staff will be as safe as possible. Still, a recent poll of our members indicates that there is a great deal of trepidation around the issue of safely reopening our schools.

The poll, conducted between July 23 and 29, indicates that educators, by a two-to-one margin, do not feel safe returning to in-person instruction. Both experienced teachers (age 60 and older) and younger teachers (age 30 and under) indicated that they feel most unsafe. Experienced teachers indicated that 58% feel unsafe while 19% feel safe. For those in the younger cohort, 53% feel unsafe while 18% feel safe.

Elementary teachers feel the safest returning to school, but 40% of those surveyed did not feel safe returning to school. Forty eight percent of middle school educators feel unsafe, while 53% of high school teachers feel unsafe in returning to school.

So, why do educators feel unsafe in returning to face-to-face instruction? It may be that at the time the poll was taken, school administration had not yet effectively communicated to its dedicated educators the processes for reopening schools. Now is not the time to be uncommunicative. As I did when we shifted to distance learning last spring, I am advising administrators to over-communicate with the teachers and educational support professionals.

Now, I understand that ND United is not a monolithic organization. Our membership is not lockstep in its thinking, and we never have been. But it is very clear that a solid majority of our members have very real and well-founded concerns about returning to class this year. Eighty percent of our education members are concerned about their health and contracting COVID-19. Eighty one percent are concerned about their family’s health and contracting COVID-19. Eighty seven percent expressed concern that their students will contract COVID-19. Eighty five percent are concerned that their students’ families will contract COVID-19, and 90% are concerned that their colleagues will be adversely affected by COVID-19.

Perhaps that explains why 69% of our education members believe that wearing masks should be mandated by their school districts while only 19% are opposed. The remaining 12% are unsure. Dr. Robert Redfield of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that if all Americans would wear masks in public spaces for two months, we would bring the infection rate to less than one percent. That would effectively eliminate the spread and make contact tracing far easier than it is right now.

I know that there are at least four school districts that are mandating mask wearing, but there should be more. This is particularly true in communities with high infection rates. Ideally, districts in these areas should consider postponing reopening until there has been a decrease in the infection rate for 14 consecutive days. I know superintendents are getting a lot of advice from the public and are trying to find a happy medium, but when it comes to the health and safety of students and staff, the best advice is to follow the science.

Be well, and #MaskUpND!

Nick Archuleta

ND United President