A recent nationwide survey of school superintendents showed that 94 percent of them aren’t ready to announce when they’ll reopen classrooms for the 2020-2021 school year. That uncertainty is extremely concerning. Too much learning has already been lost because of the abrupt school shutdown in mid-March caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Students have lost ground, and racial and economic gaps in achievement have widened. Schools need to reopen.
How to do that safely, though, is a confounding question. The threat from the deadly virus — for which there is currently no effective therapy or vaccine — has by no means diminished, evident in the spike in infections in states that rushed to reopen without adequate safeguards. No one knows whether the situation will be better or worse in the fall. Plans being developed to return students in school districts such as Loudoun, Fairfax and Montgomery have already caused anxiety — and sparked some protests — from parents and teachers on a range of safety and logistical concerns.
But as the country feels its way toward reopening, weighing risks against benefits, there is no greater imperative than getting children back into classrooms. Remote instruction can certainly play a role, but it has proved to be a mixed bag — more successful for students with resources and supports — and is no substitute for students learning with peers and teacher present to gauge progress. Economic recovery also depends on schools reopening so parents can return to work.