EDITORIAL: Reopening: In-school instruction begins, but precautions still crucial

Children attending the virtual support space at the First United Methodist Church of Harlingen wrapped up the first week of school on Friday. Guidance assistance if offered to the children, especially those lower grades by volunteers. First grade student Kambry received some assistance from Ms. Melanie Machen during a lesson on Friday. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

A major step toward normalcy is being taken as schools across Texas begin in-class instruction in the coming weeks. McAllen public schools began the process this week, inviting a few students selected based on need to return. The initial invitation is not a mandate; families can choose to send their children but are not required to do so. We trust many will if they have had trouble connecting to remote classes or if the students have had difficulty capturing concepts without direct interaction with their teachers.

Other districts will follow similar phasingin processes, with many expanding in-school enrollment as the semester progresses. A common plan is to offer a hybrid system to finish out the calendar year, with teachers having in-class instruction on some days of the week and continuing remote lessons on the other days.

This seems a good compromise to deal with state mandates that schools reopen or lose funding, and continue serving families who still don’t feel safe allowing their children to begin joining groups.

Caution certainly is warranted. The state’s desire to return to normalcy is understandable, as some students surely have fallen behind since schools closed in March. The sooner these students can return to a traditional classroom setting, the faster they can begin to catch up on any lost lessons.

At the same time, the call to reopen does not mean the world is safe. We continue to see new COVID-19 cases, and deaths, every day.

State officials justify the decision by noting research that found children who catch the virus generally show less severe symptoms, if they show any. Families should note, however, that the children can still catch the virus, carry it and pass it on to others, including parents, grandparents and other family members who can suffer more severe effects.

Most school districts and individual campuses have posted their reopening plans on their websites, Facebook pages and other online resources, and we encourage families to visit those sites, or sent letters out to registered families giving details of their specific plans including dates, options and precautions every family should know regarding their students’ return to class.

The past several months have been a challenge for everyone involved in our educational process, including educators, public officials and most importantly, the students and their families. We trust that those choosing to return to class in the next few days will recognize that the novel coronavirus is still out there, and they will continue to take whatever precautions they can to best ensure their safety. That includes practicing precautions we already know, such as covering our faces and keeping a safe distance from others, and disinfecting clothes and other materials when students arrive home at day’s end. They also should follow any additional steps that school officials ask of them, as they are developed with everyone’s safety in mind.

We have learned what can happen if we drop our guard prematurely. Continued caution can raise the likelihood that once schools reopen, they can stay open.