What has to happen for schools to reopen?

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, August 26, 2020

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The decision by area school systems to begin the school year with remote learning is a good one. Looking at the problems faced by schools across the country that did return to in-person instruction shows our school leaders made the correct decision.

But what now? What has to happen to get our students back in the classroom? What data points are officials looking at to decide to move back to in-person instruction after the nine weeks of remote learning that was announced?

We asked these questions to our school leaders but only received vague answers about partnering with the Piedmont Health District and Centra Southside Community Hospital to determine the most up-to-date data.

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If we are looking at case numbers, many counties in the area have seen more than 10 new cases in the past week. Do we need no case growth? That may be a very difficult metric to meet in nine weeks.

Then if you don’t get back in school in October, we get into fall when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the situation will get worse as flu season comes back into the mix. The combination of a flu outbreak on top of the COVID pandemic could test hospital capacity.

Then if schools decide to stay out until after Christmas, we have suddenly lost half a year.

Schools have more problems than just the case numbers. There are the staffing concerns from teachers who may choose not to teach in-person classes or retire early. Substitutes may be difficult to find, or even impractical in a COVID environment.

As we go through this process, parents should expect frequent and honest communication from school officials. There is no need to rush kids back to the classroom before we can be assured it is safe to do so. Putting students back into school to only have to navigate quarantines of entire classes and grade levels is not helpful. It’s best to wait until the pandemic is under control or faster testing methods are available. New, faster testing methods are expected to be available in late fall which would greatly aid the effort to return students to the classroom.

Perhaps public schools can learn from colleges and universities that restart successfully. Although, the early results from universities are not encouraging.

School officials need to be real with parents about how long this virtual learning process could go on. Getting to the end of this nine weeks only to determine another nine weeks of virtual learning is needed would just be another frustration in what has already been a season of frustration for many parents.

If virtual learning could last half a year, or all year, school officials should say that so parents can make preparations. School officials should also let parents know the parameters that would bring students back to school so as they track the fluctuations in case totals, they know what that means for schools.

If school officials just don’t know, then say that. There is no shame in this pandemic time of admitting we are feeling our way through this. There is no book on how to run a school system in a pandemic. This is not a snowstorm.

Silence and raising false expectations are two things that will not serve local school officials well as we move through this very odd school term.

(The views in this editorial are of The Farmville Herald editorial staff. This editorial was written by Editor Roger Watson. He can be reached at Editor@FarmvilleHerald.com or (434) 808-0622.)