Record editorial: Coronavirus fears accompany return of school
School is back in session and nerves are frayed.
The anxiety in the community — much different than the typical back-to-school excitement and energy — is understandable. Students are returning to class in Summit County for the first time since mid-March and amid the worst public health crisis in a century. Starting the school year during a raging pandemic is, like much of what has happened in 2020, unprecedented.
What will the school year bring? That’s the question everybody is asking.
Already, there is concern that another shutdown of schools is likely. Nine teachers in the Park City School District recently told The Park Record that they fear the district’s reopening plans will be insufficient to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They are worried, they said, for their safety and that of their students.
The district’s leadership would be unwise to brush off the teacher’s fears. The inability of the federal and state governments to corral the pandemic in the spring and early summer left the district’s administration and the Park City Board of Education with a nearly impossible task: crafting a reopening that balances the risk of spreading a deadly disease with the need for students to get back to school. And there’s no doubt that the district’s leadership wants the same thing as everyone else: for teachers and students to be safe, and for students to receive the same first-rate education the district has always provided.
Yet the teachers’ concerns, which include claims that many class sizes are too large to allow for social distancing, must be taken seriously. While teachers have always been heroes, they have now been thrust onto the front lines of the pandemic, alongside health care professionals and other essential workers. Even with the best precautions and planning, they are in a very real sense risking their own well-being every time they enter a classroom filled with students, and they risk bringing the disease home to their families.
For district officials, there are no easy answers. With students back in class now, it’s unclear whether the district can make major changes to its reopening plan to address the teachers’ complaints. And not everyone agrees that it needs to. Board of Education President Andrew Caplan, for instance, acknowledged that eliminating the risk COVID-19 presents is impossible but lauded the district’s plan — which allowed parents to elect for their children to learn remotely — as providing “equitable education” under challenging circumstances.
Over the course of the next nine months, we’ll learn how realistic the ambition to reopen schools safely amid a pandemic ultimately was. One thing is clear: If we are to get through this school year, it will be due to the dedication of educators and because everyone, from district leadership to parents, is willing to be flexible and to do everything possible to take the crisis as seriously as the situation demands.
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Our view: The school year has so far been a success, but the coronavirus, more than the school district, may have the ultimate say about what the next chapter looks like.