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EDITORIAL: Schools get one chance to do it right

EDITORIAL: Schools get one chance to do it right

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In today’s opinion section, former aerospace engineer and teacher Gary W. Johnson of McGregor briefly outlines how our political system has for months bungled addressing a devastating, highly contagious pandemic that now imperils our daily lives. He also questions whether we can do better when we send our children off to school after Labor Day weekend. Some solutions seem obvious: For instance, significantly cutting the number of students in each classroom should discourage viral transmission. If your neighborhood school has moved in portable classroom buildings, credit school officials for initiative and smarts.

Other solutions demand out-of-the-box thinking: The mad hustle of congested campus hallways during class changes looks more and more like a crap shoot. Will face coverings save the day?

Waco Independent School District Superintendent Susan Kincannon was right in the column she wrote for us last Sunday: Few educators will have encountered anything as precarious and disorienting as providing instruction during a pandemic. A new ABC/Ipsos poll suggests 77 percent of us are very or somewhat concerned about school reopenings; more than half of us simply oppose reopening schools. Americans are also slow to embrace other out-of-home activities — a significant wrinkle that indicts those who put their faith in economic reopenings while dismissing face coverings and physical distancing.

Polling echoes what Waco ISD trustees have heard from the public, revealing anxiety and frustration over the confusion and incompetence we see at local, state and federal levels. Only a couple of weeks ago we heard Vice President Pence insist that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be revising school reopening guidelines to make them less rigorous; CDC director Robert Redfield later appeared to say that, no, the CDC would not be revising guidelines. Who’s in charge? Local school officials have bounced between CDC guidelines, Texas Education Agency guidance and Waco-McLennan County Public Health District medical authority Farley Verner’s Tuesday health order delaying in-person instruction till after Labor Day.

Reasons for the health order, Dr. Verner says, include “a higher likelihood of initiating another round of cases within the community and the subsequent spread to households and other close contacts.” This comes in conjunction with hopes that local COVID-19 spread is slowing. Much depends on your perspective: For example, more than half of the grandparents in McLennan County — many likely among our more vulnerable residents — are also responsible for the care of children who in some cases may bring the virus home with them from school. One 78-year-old grandparent with diabetes and asthma begged Waco ISD trustees to show caution if only to prevent children from infecting grandparents and subsequently suffering enormous guilt in possibly killing them. In short, we are about to see what level of smarts, courage and resourcefulness public school leaders have in safeguarding our children, teachers and families. Let’s hope they benefit from the failure of so many others.

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