EDITORIAL: SCHOOLS WISE TO USE CAUTION
To return to the classroom or not to return to the classroom?
To wear a mask or not to wear a mask?
How many people in a classroom is too many?
And how to handle lunch?
School administrators have been wrestling with questions like these for several months now, and with the 2020-21 school year fast approaching, decisions must be made, information must be shared and a plan must be put into action.
All of this comes courtesy, of course, of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has altered life as we know it since it polluted the United States beginning in early March. Students and teachers haven’t been in the classroom in four-and-a-half months; by the time the new term begins, it will have been almost half-a-year. When was the last time that kind of hiatus has been seen in our formal educational institutions?
It’s no wonder that many questions linger, particularly since the spread of COVID-19 looks to be an ongoing reality into the foreseeable future. That’s why it’s encouraging to hear that schools in Freeman and Menno are taking necessary steps to make sure that safety measures are implemented and, hopefully, enforced.
Menno is set to start school with half-days on Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 17 and 18. Freeman Public will return to the classroom with a half-day on Aug. 19 and Freeman Academy starts the new year with a full day of school Wednesday, Aug. 26.
Many support the reopening of schools.
Some do not.
Others are likely on the fence.
Regardless of your position on the matter — and of the COVID-19 situation in general — it’s hard to argue with the opinion that it is of highest importance that schools act with safety for both the students and the staff. That has always been the case, of course, but the need for that is only heightened given the circumstances surrounding what remains a novel virus.
Statistics tell us that, as of early this week, the United States had 3.9 million cases of COVID-19 and 143,000 deaths, and science tells us that wearing protective face coverings and physical distancing from one another goes a long way in helping mitigate the ongoing spread of the disease.
To that end, schools in Freeman and Menno should be cautious about how they reopen this fall, and it sounds like they are considering the appropriate steps. Administrators from all three schools say the usage of masks is on the table, while implementing measures to reduce or eliminate larger congregations of students during the school day is being looked at.
What’s even more encouraging is that public input has been sought and the conversation about the reopening plan has been a collaborative effort. Freeman Academy, Freeman Public and Menno have all surveyed families, and administration at all three schools are listening to outside voices about the best approach to pursue. Tom Rice, superintendent at Menno, says he is working in partnership with the Menno Educational Association; and Nathan Epp and Kevin Kunz note that their respective schools, Freeman Academy and Freeman Public, are taking cues from the South Dakota Department of Health, South Dakota Department of Education and local health care professionals.
And surveys of the families have clearly provided both direction and perspective.
The most important component to the reopening plan, however, should be this: schools need to respect the opinion and choices of their respective patrons and act accordingly. That means that, if a family doesn’t feel comfortable sending their son or daughter back into the classroom, alternative learning systems need to be implemented, much like they were when the in-classroom instruction abruptly ended in March.
Is that going to require additional work for staff? Yes.
Is that going to require an attitude adjustment by students? Of course.
Is that going to require more effort and oversight on the part of the parents? You bet it is.
But if this worldwide pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to keep open eyes, ears and an open mind to the situation at hand and respond accordingly. That is certainly the case when it comes to going back to school.
Should schools like Freeman Academy, Freeman Public and Menno open their doors to students later next month?
Yes, with the understanding that the situation may change for the better or for the worse, and if and when that time comes, more decisions may have to be made.
This pandemic has been hard on everybody in multiple ways. Small businesses have taken on financial stress, medical teams have had to prepare for the worst (and, in some large cities, respond to the worst), retailers have had to deal with a shortage in the supply chain, tens of thousands have been hospitalized, and many have died.
How to deal with school, including the fall sports season and other activities that go along with it, is just another challenge in challenging times.
Between the resources available to them, the input they have received from patrons and a willingness to get creative and adapt, it sounds like our schools are doing the best they can in a difficult situation.