Monday, March 1, 2021
March 1, 2021

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In Our View: Caution required as students return to school

The Columbian

In gradually shifting to in-person kindergarten classes amid the coronavirus pandemic, local school districts must proceed with caution.

Officials from nine Clark County districts — Battle Ground, Camas, Evergreen, Green Mountain, Hockinson, La Center, Ridgefield, Vancouver and Washougal — announced this week that they will open classroom doors to small groups of kindergarten students. Classes will begin in the coming weeks with 10 or fewer students, and administrators say the plan adheres to guidelines laid out by the state. Plans have not been developed for returning older students to class.

The desire to have students in school is understandable. Remote education often is a poor substitute for in-person learning, particularly for young students, and the stress on students, parents and teachers is palpable. In-person lessons are believed to be more effective teaching tools, and the social interaction that comes from being in school cannot be replicated through a computer screen.

In addition, being in school often provides increased physical activity, plus free or reduced-price lunches for many students who otherwise might be undernourished.

Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Steve Webb said: “Kindergarten students have no classroom experience and remote learning presents significant challenges for our youngest learners. This is a cautious, thoughtful and safe approach to support effective learning for very young students.”

Officials say preventive measures such as health screenings for COVID-19 symptoms, mask wearing, physical distancing and frequent hand washing will be in place. Various studies have shown that children are less likely than adults to contract coronavirus, and they are less likely to suffer from severe complications.

That has led many people to urge for the reopening of schools, but such exhortations ignore the broader risk. An infected child can spread coronavirus in their home, and the health of teachers and staff in a school building must also be a priority.

Unlike some states, Washington has been cautious about returning students to class. Many schools opened as early as August while irresponsibly ignoring commonsense precautions. A photo of a packed hallway at a Georgia high school went viral at the start of the school year; that school returned to online-only instruction after one week of classes. In another example, a report issued Monday from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services detailed outbreaks at 99 K-12 schools in that state.

Opening schools only to have them quickly close again adds an additional disruption to the lives of students and parents.

Because of that, one of the most important steps for schools involves preparedness for when somebody in the building tests positive for coronavirus. Students and staff must stay home when they do not feel well; administrators must prepare to isolate and transport students who develop symptoms while at school; and parents must notify staff when a student is showing symptoms of illness at home.

We also again remind parents of the importance of their child’s mental health. In-person learning will be a vast change, particularly for young students with little school experience, and COVID restrictions while in the building could add another layer of stress.

Gradually opening schools will be beneficial for students, enhancing their educational and social development. With the appropriate degree of caution, we trust that Clark County students will make a successful transition.