Back to school?

Now we know what parents think, but Tuesday it will be up to the Janesville School Board to decide if classrooms should open this fall amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision will be the most difficult, consequential and controversial the board has faced in memory.

A survey of Janesville School District parents, students and staff indicates 80% of parents would be comfortable having their children return to classrooms.

School district administrators are crafting recommendations for the school board to consider Tuesday night. What those recommendations are, we don’t know.

But here is our advice for the school board: Try.

Try opening schools in some form, even if it’s not the regular all-day, five-day schedule. It will be difficult, but we need to try.

The kids need an education, and if teachers, parents and administrators were to be honest, they would admit that not much education was accomplished after schools closed March 16.

The parents need a break. How much longer can some parents hold down jobs while also watching children at home?

The prospect of confining children in classrooms is daunting. We suspect school administrators are considering options for minimizing the risk of spreading the coronavirus, but the challenges are myriad.

Will you expect 5-year-olds to wear masks all day?

What sort of daily or hourly or constant sanitizing of school surfaces will suffice?

Does everybody get their temperature checked every day?

Is there enough room in school buildings for all the students to be separated the recommended distance?

Some school districts are considering having students attend in shifts—some students Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the rest Tuesday and Thursday. The next week they switch. That would create a child care migraine for parents, but schools might need to consider such options to reduce the number of people in buildings to accommodate social distancing.

And opening schools is only the start. Keeping them open will be the real trick.

What happens—and it will happen—when a teacher or student or custodian or principal tests positive for COVID-19? Do you shut down the school? Do you send home the infected student’s classmates for two weeks?

We don’t have the answers, and we assume these are the scenarios administrators are considering as they make their plans.

Our only advice is to try. Even before COVID-19, half of Janesville third-graders were not reading at grade level. Many of those kids were destined to struggle for the rest of their academic careers, but now they have the added handicap of missing a big chunk of the last school year.

If choices need to be made, then the priority for schools should be reading and math. Social studies, history, art, physical education and music are important, too, but it’s difficult to learn about the Founding Fathers if you can’t read a history book.

We suspect the plan will not be the same for second-graders as it is for high school sophomores. The plan will a combination of solutions with everybody guaranteed to dislike something.

Even so, the school district must try.

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