MINOT, N.D. — Last month, as kids across our region began a new school year amid an ongoing pandemic, I marveled at some of the poor priorities on display.
At that time, in some school districts, kids wouldn't be in classrooms every day but would be attending things like football practice five days a week.
How is that OK?
Even as we've weathered a spike in the spread of COVID-19 contemporaneous to schools re-opening, those foul priorities haven't changed.
Case in point, starting on Oct. 5, Fargo Public Schools will commence distance learning. Some parents aren't happy about it — they staged a small demonstration over it this week — and who can blame them? The best academic setting for most kids is in a classroom. What's more, if younger kids aren't in school, that puts pressure on parents to find child care for them.
But what's truly outrageous is that, even though Fargo's kids won't be in classrooms for a while, sports activities will continue unabated.
I contacted Robin Nelson, a member of the school board in Fargo, and she called the situation "confusing and frustrating" and offered to get more information about it for me. On our follow-up, Nelson confirmed that there would be no changes to in-person sports activities, even though Fargo Public Schools deemed the spread of COVID-19 in the community so severe kids can't be in classrooms.
How are those priorities acceptable?
We know that COVID-19 is spread through sports activities. In West Fargo, to name just one example, the Sheyenne High School football team has been quarantined after a positive test.
That's a whole football team worth of student-athletes who, at the very least, won't be in classrooms for weeks because of a stubborn insistence that we continue playing football and other sports amid the pandemic. Even as that very same pandemic is causing some schools to close classrooms or limit time in them.
Even realizing that not everyone agrees on the scope of the problem presented by the pandemic — public attitudes run the gamut from "close everything" to "business as usual" — shouldn't our schools prioritize classroom time over sports participation?
The schools have the option to do so. When I first spoke to Nelson, she thought the relationship between Fargo's schools and the North Dakota High School Activities Association (called "North Dakota's NCAA" by some political wags in the state who don't intend the comparison to be complimentary) might prohibit nonparticipation, but after checking she said it isn't so.
Fargo could opt to stop sports activities, in the same way, they're stopping classroom activities, they just aren't. Nor is Fargo the only school district making that choice.
Drilling down, plenty of parents are also choosing to send their kids to practices and games, despite the risks.
The debate about how serious or not serious we should take the COVID-19 outbreak is a topic for a different column. My point in this column is that if we're going to take it seriously, to the point where we deny kids access to classrooms, we should apply that thinking to sports and other extracurricular activities as well.
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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 email@example.com.