Twenty percent of Grand Forks Public Schools employees lack confidence the district will be prepared to safely reopen next month.
In East Grand Forks, 35% of school staff say they are uncomfortable or very uncomfortable with a return to in-person teaching.
At UND, concern isn’t so easily available, since no faculty/staff survey has been administered. It seems like a mistake in this era of seeking input, addressing concern and collaborating on ideas to safely return to school amid the pandemic.
Even without a survey at UND, it’s apparent concerns exist. In an op-ed published in the Herald, Dexter Perkins, a professor in UND’s Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, said UND’s decision to return to in-person classes is “putting university students, faculty, and staff, and everyone they interact with off campus, in harm’s way.”
He continued: “... Although the university plans to make things as safe as possible, face-to-face classes cannot be safe.”
Getting students back in class is important, and not just for the sake of their own education. Parents of young students need to be able to return to work and also to make daycare plans. The community needs the financial impact that comes with a return of UND students. Jobs – thousands of jobs – are on the line.
But safety and addressing concerns must be top priorities. To achieve that requires input and grassroots collaboration from all involved. Discussing options is one thing; allowing for anonymous input is another. The latter produces more honesty than the former.
Saturday’s edition of the Herald included several stories outlining concerns and questions of the push to return to in-person classes in Greater Grand Forks, including at UND and the East Grand Forks and Grand Forks school systems. Perhaps the entire package of stories was best summed up by a single headline: “At UND and elsewhere, a thousand ‘what-if’ questions.”
At UND, certain accommodations are being made. The Herald reported that if students don’t feel safe to return, they can take “a robust set of courses online, and remain at home and rejoin us later on in their academic career,” President Andrew Armacost said. Further, if faculty members don’t feel comfortable returning to the classroom, they have the option to work remotely, he said.
Armacost’s concessions are good, and they should help ease the worries that naturally will come with the students’ return. And North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta recently commended UND for addressing concerns brought up by staff. Give UND credit for that.
Perkins, meanwhile, is right to raise the questions he posed in his op-ed.
Is he alone? That’s highly unlikely.
In South Dakota, the Council for Higher Education, which represents South Dakota faculty, conducted a survey and found only 9% are confident of a safe return to college classes, according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. The sample size was small – only 81 responded – but it still indicates worry.
Greater Grand Forks’ K-12 school districts reached out to staff en masse to hear their concerns about a return to class. UND easily could have done the same.