The decision facing area school superintendents in coming weeks is unquestionably weighty: As coronavirus cases spike around the nation, district leaders must determine how instruction will occur in the spring 2021 semester.
Both Rob Clayton, who leads Warren County Public Schools, and Gary Fields, his counterpart at the Bowling Green Independent School District, have said in recent days that they are targeting announcements in the first week of December. Numerous variables could influence that timing, but for now, both superintendents intend to give parents and students as much advance notice as possible about how the semester will begin.
We recognize the rising concern among local, state and national health officials about the COVID-19 pandemic that appears to be escalating to alarming levels. But we also heed the advice of educators and mental health experts who are nearly uniform in noting that many students are harmed socially and academically by a lack of in-person instruction. Not only that, but a recent study by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, as described in a report published Tuesday in the Daily News, offers a new round of data illustrating the burdens that remote instruction places on many working families, such as difficulty scheduling child care and accessing reliable internet service.
The choices to be made by superintendents aren’t easy. District leaders are, of course, committed to protecting the health and safety of their students and employees. But educators also know that the most effective instruction occurs when teachers and pupils are together. That’s why we sincerely hope the circumstances of the pandemic will allow as many districts as possible to continue offering some form of in-person classroom time to as many students and families who want it.
There is reason to be optimistic this can and will happen. Even though virus cases are growing, there is little evidence that schools are significantly contributing to the problem. Locally, adherence to safety precautions such as masks, social distancing, hand washing and quarantining seems much more prevalent inside the school environment than among the population at large. Cases among school communities are predominantly traced to non-school exposures, rather than “in-house” transmissions.
That’s why – barring the onset of unforeseen circumstances beyond the superintendents’ control – we believe our local districts have earned the right to stay the courses they have charted to date. Since schools have been successful in limiting transmission within their walls, we see no reason to punish students and educators for situations unfolding outside those walls.
Of course, the calculus changes if and when it becomes clear that in-person school activity is responsible for increased spread of the virus, or when the overall COVID scenario reaches a point where it becomes impossible for educators to perform their duties adequately. Should either possibility become reality, we’re confident that district officials will make the appropriate calls.
But for now, we believe the appropriate path forward is to continue trusting school officials to do everything in their power to make classrooms and school buildings as safe as possible.
Some virus cases among staff and students are inevitable, but until it is definitively shown that the school environment itself is actively worsening the spread, we believe it is in any community’s best interest to maintain in-person teaching options for those who wish to use them.