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Our View: No need to rush a return to schools; ‘hybrid’ plan could be a disaster | COMMENTARY

It’s still far from certain how Carroll County Public Schools will approach the start of the 2020-21 school year this fall, but a draft plan presented Wednesday night showed details on how a “hybrid” model might work. That model gives us some concern.

That model calls for a mix of virtual learning and having children attend schools on a separate schedule, with an “A” cohort of students in school on Mondays and Tuesdays, all students learning remotely on Wednesdays to allow for a deep clean of the buildings, and a “B” cohort in school Thursdays and Fridays.

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Color us skeptical of such a plan. It seems far more prudent to begin with an all-virtual model in the fall and re-evaluate each marking period to see if schools, and society, are better prepared for a return to the classroom. To bring students and teachers back to the classroom now could be an unmitigated disaster.

There is still so much we don’t know about the coronavirus. Believe it or not, by the time school starts in September, the pandemic’s grip in the U.S. will just barely be reaching the six-month point, even if it has already felt like an eternity to some.

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It’s also fascinating that we somehow expect children — major spreaders of other respiratory diseases like the cold and the flu — to practice good hygiene, wear masks and properly social distance during the school day, when we can’t even get adults to do so consistently. Gov. Larry Hogan scolded adults going to and running bars and restaurants in the state earlier this week for not properly following the guidelines.

Yes, there is some evidence that children aren’t quite as susceptible to COVID-19 as older adults. That does not mean they are not carriers, and that doesn’t account for the adult teachers in the classroom who might catch it from them, or spread it to them to bring home. There could be seriously dangerous consequences to sending children — who could be asymptomatic and still spread the disease —back to the classroom, even in smaller groups on separate schedules.

Although health and safety is our primary concern, there are more factors in eschewing the hybrid plan. Let’s face it, one of the reasons there is a push, at least nationally, for children to return to school is allowing adults to get back to work and bolster the economy.

We’re not sure a hybrid model solves that problem. Without the day-to-day consistency of students either being in class or learning at home, it potentially becomes more difficult for parents to return to a normal work schedule and arrange child care. And for students who are going to child care — be it a neighbor, family member or daycare facility — they are now interacting with even more people where there is potential to contract or spread the disease.

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That doesn’t take into account the additional drain of parents trying to keep track of what days their child is going to school and which days they are not, and juggling that with their work schedules, especially if they have multiple children of varying ages. Think keeping track of when class meetings were taking place in the spring was tough? Just wait.

Are there benefits of students returning to the classroom rather than continuing with virtual learning? Of course. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that “children learn social and emotional skills, get exercise and access to mental health support and other things that cannot be provided with online learning. For many families, school is where kids get healthy meals, access to the internet, and other vital services.”

There is no substitute for in-person learning, and we won’t pretend that there is. But a full return to school this fall seems premature, with great potential to cause a spike in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. Then we’ll be right back where we started.

School systems are better prepared for virtual learning now than they were in the spring. And they still have a month and a half to work out remaining kinks. There is no need to rush students and teachers back into the classroom where there are still so many unanswered questions.

Rather than risking spikes in coronavirus cases now, let’s take our time to get these questions answered so that, when the time is right, our children can safely go back to school together.

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