Response to Swine Flu school closures: Webinars? Try Paid Sick Days
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released a statement calling on schools to "ensure instruction continues should the virus cause high absenteeism or school closings" that result from H1N1 (Swine Flu) outbreaks.
Duncan suggested schools should evaluate what materials they have available for at-home learning, such as distributing recorded classes on podcasts and DVDs; creating take-home packets with up to 12 weeks of printed class material; or holding live classes via conference calls or "webinars."
Webinars?!? I'm hip to the groove that we should keep kids learning, but the Secretary of Education needs a huge reality check. The Department of Labor reported that over 68% school aged children have all parents working outside the home. That means that when schools close, or when kids are sick, the first, and most important question parents have is not "how do I make sure my child gets her math lesson" but instead is, "Who is going to take care of my 6 year old today when I have to work?!"
Secretary Duncan needs to see the big picture. If he wants to reduce the number of days that children miss out on learning due to illness, step one is to reduce the risk of that illness' transmission.
Paid Sick Days are critical to making this happen. As Dr. Anita Barry of the Boston Public Health Commission points out:
"For some parents... if they don't show up at work, they don't get paid, and people may already be on the economic margins," Barry says. "So parents were desperate to get some of these children back in school." As a result, there were many sick, contagious kids in Boston classrooms this spring.
If the Secretary Duncan wants to offer real help and support to parents, he should publicly support the Healthy Families Act. This Act will allow working people to earn paid sick days that they can use to care for themselves or their children when they are sick. Paid Sick Days not only benefit families, they also save businesses money by keeping workers healthy and productive.
By setting a minimum standard for employer-provided paid sick days, we make sure that every working parent will be able to keep the flu out of schools so they don't have to close.