With the pandemic monster stirring once again in Maryland, the Frederick County school board made the only safe choice available to it by deciding to reopen this fall with remote instruction for almost all children.
Everyone wants the schools to fully reopen and have all the children back working with their teachers in the classroom. It is best for the children, who learn more in a classroom. It is best for teachers, most of whom love to work directly with children. It is best for parents, most of whom depend on schools to take care of their children while they work.
But it just isn’t practical at this point. We are nowhere near ready to return to pre-pandemic normal.
With uncertainty hanging over our heads, the school board made the least bad choice available — to go back to the flawed system of online instruction. It rejected a proposal for a blended school week, with half of the children attending school on Monday and Tuesday in person, and the other half attending Thursday and Friday. Wednesday was to be for deep cleaning.
Now, parents can start trying to plan for the fall knowing what they will need to contend with, even if they are not certain of how they will cope. Working from home is likely to be the most common plan for most people this fall, if it is possible. Businesses are going to have to plan for it.
The school board’s decision came on the same day that Gov. Larry Hogan ordered a pause in the reopening of businesses in the state. With new coronavirus cases rising in the state, Hogan, too, was faced with an unenviable choice: risk enabling the even wider spread of COVID-19 or risk further harm to the reeling economy.
Hogan also made the right choice, picking the safety of our citizens over short-term economic gain. As state after state has learned, reopening too quickly is a certain path to more economic devastation, not less.
Hogan announced an executive order that will require Marylanders to wear masks or face coverings outdoors when social distancing is not possible. He is trying again to get Marylanders to protect themselves and others from this highly communicable disease.
The governor said that contact tracing, in which infected people are interviewed about how they may have been exposed to the disease, showed that 44 percent had attended a family gathering, 23 percent had attended a house party and 21 percent attended an outdoor event. Social gatherings are very dangerous places, especially without face masks.
Those kinds of numbers show the ease of transmission of the disease in groups. Along with recent studies showing that children over the age of 10 are just as likely to spread the disease as adults, it is clear that opening schools would expose children, teachers, staff and families to danger.
We do commend the school board for recognizing that some children absolutely must have in-person instruction, even if there is some risk. The board instructed staff to come up with plans for occasional face-to-face instruction for students such as Special Education students and English Language (EL) students whose academic success might be seriously challenged by a lack of in-person instruction.
The school system staff must devote all their energy and attention to making the online learning experience as effective and efficient as possible. Colleges and universities — including the University of Maryland Global Campus — have been relying on distance learning for years. State and county educators should tap the college for its expertise.
The school board will revisit the decision at the end of the first semester. By then, we can only hope that circumstances have changed, that our knowledge about coping with the disease has increased, and that some form of in-person instruction might again be feasible.
For now, though, let’s play it safe. Good call, school board.