Editorial: When the school bell rings this year, kids should be in class


Editorial by The Cincinnati Enquirer:

For Cincinnati Public Schools and many other local districts, this week marks their reopening and a milestone in the long road back to normalcy from the pandemic.

CPS has served parents with a bevy of choices during the 2021-22 school year, including five-day in-person, remote and blended learning. We hope that all students return to the classroom in-person.

With the emergence of the highly contagious delta variant and COVID-19 cases surging, some parents understandably fear a return to in-person and may choose to let their child learn from home. But CPS and other area school districts did a good job of controlling the spread of the virus when schools reopened at the end of last school year, reporting relatively low transmission rates.

A high percentage of vaccinated teachers, mask requirements, good hygiene and sanitizing practices, social distancing and quarantines in cases of close contact with COVID-19-positive students or staff created a safe learning environment that should instill confidence in parents.

Getting kids back into the traditional school setting provides better outcomes. Almost every school district reported a drop in student learning during the pandemic, primarily because online learning is not comparable to in-person. Many schools have put a lot of time, money and effort into catching students up, particularly in reading.

At one point during the pandemic, roughly 5,000 of CPS’ 36,000 students stopped participating in online learning. The New York Times recently reported that as the pandemic took hold, more than 1 million students nationally did not show up for school in-person or online. Recapturing those students and getting them back on track academically must be a priority.

The most impactful learning happens in classrooms where students can make connections with their teachers and peers. And medical experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, agree that in-school learning is important for children’s healthy development and well-being. Many young people struggled mentally with the lockdowns in 2020 and being isolated from their classmates. A return to class where they can socialize with friends will be good for their mental health.

And once students return to school buildings, we should do everything we can to keep them there, uninterrupted. Masks are a big part of that formula.

Due to the growing presence of the delta variant of COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its masking guidance for K-12 schools, recommending universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors regardless of vaccination status. But the CDC can’t make schools require masks, so it’s up to individual districts to determine their own policies.

Last week, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear issued a new mask mandate for schools in the commonwealth. But only a handful of districts in Greater Cincinnati – CPS is one of them – are requiring students and staff to wear masks while inside school buildings. Most districts are making masks optional, leaving the choice up to parents.

We won’t debate the merits of mask mandates here. But it is important for parents and students to act responsibly. The notion that masks do more harm than good is foolish. And while masks are not foolproof, most medical experts agree there is enough evidence to suggest they are an effective tool to slow the spread of COVID-19. The risk of exposure to the virus, serious illness, long-term effects and death far outweigh any temporary discomfort one might experience from putting on a mask.

We should do everything within our power to prevent an outbreak in our schools this fall. Because once closed, it will be very hard to get them open again quickly. Our goal should be to get schools opened and keep them open.

The pandemic taught us some hard lessons during the past year. Let’s show we’ve learned how to be responsible, protect each other and work together for the common good and our kids. Because Lockdown 101 is a class none of us wants to repeat.

— Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug. 15