The prediction of snow on Friday was a reminder that for decades now, school officials have struggled with the problem of whether to open when inclement weather is predicted — they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
The decisions associated with opening during a deadly pandemic are bound to be even more difficult — and will likely leave officials open to even more criticism.
We hope everyone, even those who disagree with the decision — and we sympathize completely — will be as charitable and supportive as possible as Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools reopen to three new grades on Monday.
"We're ready," Interim Superintendent Tricia McManus said at a school board update last week. "Are we going to have no issues? No. Are we going to have no spread? No. Are we going to do everything in our power to make sure staff and students are safe and have what they need? Yes. We're going to be responsive."
We’re counting on that responsiveness.
Grades 2, 3 and 6 are scheduled to return to school Monday after a three-week holiday break, following a plan formulated in November. Assuming no change, grades 4, 5, 7 and 8 will return Jan. 19 and high school students on Jan. 25.
The return will involve a combination of remote and in-person learning. No students will be present on Wednesdays, when schools will be closed for teacher planning and cleaning.
These decisions have not been met with enthusiasm by all — not even all school board members.
"Ten years from now, students won't remember if they returned in January or March, but they will remember if one of their teachers died," school board member Elisabeth Motsinger said at the update last week. She said that several epidemiologists have cautioned that the country is about to hit the deadliest period of the pandemic. Waiting a few months until the vaccines become more widely available would make sense, she said.
She’s not wrong.
"I just felt like there should be an ease back in," Val Young, the president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators, said last week. "I'm in shock a little bit. I know this is what they said they were going to do, but I'm so concerned about our numbers right now and adults going back in the building. Everybody did not do the right thing when they were on break."
Indeed, Forsyth County is in the middle of an expected surge in cases and hospitalizations, following holiday social gatherings. Young is right: Not everybody did the right thing during the winter break.
North Carolina is at a dangerous level, with a positivity rate at a record 17.8%, Dr. Mandy Cohen, the director of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said last week.
There’s no doubt that the danger exists. And we wouldn’t be surprised if, just as with snow and ice, school officials were to read the sky and change course. No one should blame them if they do.
Nor should they be excoriated if they stay the course. They have an awesome responsibility — our children — and they’re doing the best they can to balance the harm of absence against the possible harm of attendance.
If the virus has taught us anything, it’s that a home computer and a Netflix account are no substitute for a real-life, real-time education in a classroom, with attentive teachers. Young people need informed and experienced adults to assess and guide their education, to encourage and discipline them.
When it comes to children, medical authorities have said that the rate of infection is lower than with adults. “But most kids who are infected typically don't become as sick as adults and some might not show any symptoms at all,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
They can still spread it.
Placing teachers and staff near them puts them in danger, too. So proper precautions need to be taken — and taken seriously.
So we’re crossing our fingers for teachers, staff and students. We’ll keep you in sight and in mind.