The school year has started with most students still learning virtually and taking classes from home.
It is important for schools to continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation on the Eastern Shore. It also important that each district and each community continue decide for itself when and how to fully reopen schools.
But school districts and administrators need to realize the COVID-19 situation has been improving in Maryland, and there is a need to get students responsibly back in the classroom.
While we still need to social distance and wear masks, school districts need to realize other aspects of the economy and everyday life are reopening. Restaurants are able to increase indoor capacity. Most workplaces have opened. High school sports are coming back.
While some students and families can handle virtual classes, online education and having kids stuck at home is a problem for others.
Parents are having to juggle work with kids at home and a lack of child care. We know protecting public health is imperative. But again, we lose sight at times of the economic hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic and a continuation of online learning.
How are parents and, in some instances, grandparents able to work (and pay bills) if their kids are stuck at home?
Other students are challenged with a lack of internet access and technology. A number of school districts and communities on the Shore have bought hotspots and supplied students with computer tablets to help with the digital divide issue.
But the problem is very real for many of our neighbors on the Shore, and there are high school students across Maryland and Delmarva who are weighing dropping out because they might not have internet service at home. The digital divide is the last straw for some of these students.
High school and middle school students are also having to provide child care to young siblings and neighbors.
The continued social isolation because of the pandemic also continues to create mental health and other challenges for parents and students.
It also must be odd for kids to see other aspects of life reopen, but they are stuck with Zoom classes from their kitchen table.
Bringing kids back for in-person classes has its challenges. Teachers and staff need to be protected, and we do not want students contracting COVID and bringing it back home, especially to vulnerable relatives.
Families and students should have options to continue with online classes, especially for health reasons.
We see some school districts with common sense plans to bring students into the classroom as local COVID-19 situations improve.
But we unfortunately see politics and the politics of fear continue to shadow reopening plans.
Teachers’ unions can be great advocates for increasing teacher pay and protecting them during pandemic. But teachers unions can also get caught up in fights based more on partisanship than the welfare of students.
We have seen in other states — and some here in Maryland — where the advocacy of teachers’ unions, when it comes to the pandemic, hinges on whether a governor is a Republican or Democrat.
School districts should be listening to students, parents, teachers and teachers’ unions as well as public health officials when it comes to when and how they will reopen.
We just need to put the politics aside and focus on all the ramifications of virtual classes.
It is getting closer and closer to the time for schools to fully reopen. That needs to be done responsibly. But the time is coming.