MINOT, N.D. — Our top priority in the coming months, aside from the overall task of combating the spread of COVID-19, is keeping our schools open.
We're just a week or two into the school year, depending on where you live, and already we're seeing outbreaks in some areas.
This was inevitable — in-person schooling means more person-to-person contact in our communities which means more spread — and the pressure campaign to close our schools down again is coming.
(Amid this we're continuing to hold games and practices for the scholastic sports teams, something that ups the risk of schools closing and is a stinging indictment of our pathetic priorities when it comes to K-12 education, but that's a topic for another column.)
We must protect the men and women who staff our schools to make school closures less likely.
We have, already, taken many steps in that direction. A group of Democratic state lawmakers has another step they think we should take.
They want Gov. Doug Burgum to issue an executive order expanding workers' compensation coverage for COVID-19 to all school staff. Teachers, through their contracts with their school districts, already have this sort of protection but staff workers (think janitors and secretaries and lunchroom workers) do not.
Burgum has already issued this sort of order for people such as first responders and funeral workers and those who assist the disabled. Expanding it again to a workforce that is crucial for keeping our schools open is a no-brainer.
Why is it so important to keep the schools open?
Because the cost of closing schools, to our children and local economies, is terrible.
Homeschooling works well for many families, but most parents aren't prepared to invest the time or dollars it takes to make at-home education work. Children, too, aren't widgets with uniform needs for education. While some may thrive with homeschooling, others need the classroom and other social aspects of a school.
Closing schools also has an economic cost. If they aren't going to school, a parent has to take time from work. Even if that parent can find child care, which is no sure thing, that care provider is unlikely to be able to help that child with distance learning.
Which brings me to the more controversial part of what the Democrats are proposing.
They want a presumption in place stating that any case of COVID-19 contracted by a school worker happened on the job.
This is going to be a tougher sell, and the business community is likely to grit teeth over what that might mean for the workers' comp premiums they pay, but I think this, too, is a step we need to take in this fraught moment.
Because when schools close, sending employees with children scrambling, that has a cost for business too.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.