There’s a famous saying about ignoring the lessons of history, and the doom that befalls those who fail to heed them. Another way of taking it is that recognizing when similar circumstances are presented and taking appropriate action is likely to change the outcome.
Take, for example, the remarkable similarities between the current pandemic situation and that of a year ago. We’re a year older; the question is whether we’re any wiser.
Last August, school officials were struggling with how to protect students and staff while improving upon the wholly remote learning model they’d been forced to implement on the fly the previous spring. After a brief summer lull, cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations and deaths were all rising — most likely due to citizens, businesses and governments relaxing their social distancing regimens as soon as things started looking at all better. The problem was that for several reasons, it was clear kids needed to be in school come fall.
When the pandemic first hit, after first marveling at how well everyone adapted to home learning, teachers, parents and, especially, students, soon realized the many downsides to having to turn bedrooms and living rooms into classrooms of one. At least at the elementary and secondary levels, it turns out many kids need the social aspects and structure of school, and the opportunity for personal attention, to thrive. And teachers, while they performed remarkably under the circumstances, were hamstrung by the limitations of remote instruction.
So as fall approached, almost every public school opted for a compromise, or hybrid, model. This incorporated several days of in-person attendance, following masking and other social distancing measures, with one or more days of remote lessons, during which school facilities could be disinfected. Largely, it worked; transmission rates of the coronavirus through schools were very low, and while not quite as perfect as a “normal” school year, learning seemed to go better than it had the previous spring.
And here we are again, facing the start of the school year, with cases, hospitalizations and deaths on the rise, this time largely courtesy of the delta variant of the virus, which has thus far turned much of what we thought we knew about controlling the virus on its ear.
And once again, direction from the state on how best to deal with the situation is limited, if not outright counterproductive — after the state Health and Human Services Department issued recommendations for when schools should require masks, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut this week said that decision should be up to parents.
All the Monadnock Region districts have put in place their own policies for the upcoming year. In each case, the baseline approach calls for total in-person attendance, except in rare instances, with the possibility of going remote part- or full-time a last-resort only. In some cases, the school districts have set more stringent guidelines than the state had called for, as is their right.
Our view is that districts need to err on the side of caution and be as aggressive as possible in protecting students and staff. If the idea is that the best option for learning is to be in school, then the best way to keep that happening is to prevent spread of the virus.
This continues to be a public health emergency, regardless of whether the governor or president takes specific action to designate it as such. COVID-19 kills. The newer variants are showing themselves to be more dangerous to children, and even with vaccines, we are far from past this pandemic.
Parents always have the last word in keeping their children safe and are entitled to their say. But their views on what constitutes a safe environment for others do not supersede the districts’ responsibility to protect everyone who’s required to be in the facilities.