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Getting back to ‘normal’

We have all missed out on a lot this past year — festivals, meetings and all sorts of events were canceled, holiday plans with friends and family were altered, travel was discouraged — due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it is likely that the coronavirus had its biggest impact on elementary, middle and high school students.

Because of the risk of spreading the mysterious new illness that we became aware of little more than a year ago, students’ lives and educations have been drastically altered. Early on, schools were simply closed in an effort to slow, the spread of the virus. Many districts quickly threw together plans for online classes to keep students engaged.

When classes resumed for the fall, most Ohio schools attempted to bring students back to in-person classes four or five days a week. But a rapidly climbing infection rate and death toll, mostly among adults in the larger community, led them to scale things back. Some schools operated on a hybrid model that had half of students in the classroom two days a week; others opted for fully remote learning.

Athletic practices and games were affected, too, as were all sorts of school-related activities.

Now, studies are suggesting that COVID-19 does not spread readily in classroom environments. It seems that, so long

as students and staff members wear masks, the virus does not make its way through the student population. In most cases, student infections can be traced to sources outside of the schools.

As a result, Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health have said social distancing requirements can be somewhat relaxed, so long as everyone continues to use face coverings and practice good hygiene, such as frequent handwashing or use of hand sanitizer. Outside the classrooms, social distancing must be maintained for safety — but inside those classes, it is believed students can safely be seated just 3 feet apart, rather than the standard 6 feet.

Upon hearing those new guidelines, along with news that school staffers will be eligible for vaccination against the virus in February, many local districts are making plans to bring students back to full-time, in-person instruction. While some will set those plans in motion this week, others are opting to wait a few more weeks. They will continue remote instruction or offering classes under a hybrid model.

We urge school officials and parents to proceed with caution — but we also encourage them to proceed. There is no substitute for in-person instruction and the social interactions that students experience when in school. They deserve every opportunity to get back to “normal” schooling, as long as they can do so safely.

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