Editorial: Let’s be kind to each other in determining fate of schools

Desks are in place at a safe social distance in a classroom of Johnson School, in Bridgeport, Conn. Aug. 27, 2020.

Desks are in place at a safe social distance in a classroom of Johnson School, in Bridgeport, Conn. Aug. 27, 2020.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

After all we’ve been through over the past eight seasons, let’s give each other a break about the agonizing decisions on whether to close schools as the pandemic rages.

The latest COVID surge happens to dovetail with the first major weather events of the 2021-22 school year. While local and state leaders deal with shifting factors on whether to pivot back to virtual classrooms, snow and ice remind us that the hardest part of a superintendent’s job is typically deciding if they should shutter schools with bad weather in the forecast.

Superintendents have to rely on the same forecasts the rest of us complain about, then make the call while most people sleep.

Sometimes they get it right. Other times students wind up staying home on days when nary a snowflake falls. And occasionally — and these are the days we all hear about — parents understandably freak out because their kids are riding buses in perilous conditions.

By the end of the school year, everyone forgets the specifics and just questions why they have to make up snow days as July approaches.

Life presents a lot of difficult choices: Naming a child; choosing a major; changing jobs or careers ... whether to Supersize at the drive-thru. But answers for true challenges, such as the choices faced by leaders during this once-in-a-century pandemic, can’t be found by consulting friends, social media or search engines.

We favor offering clear solutions on the editorial page. We rarely have to weigh in on weather conditions, because most are fleeting. But the pandemic’s stubborn resilience reminds us that when it comes to educating children during this crisis, it’s important to maintain empathy for those making the decisions, and for those who have to deal with the consequences.

We should all agree that the ideal is to keep schools open. Losing interaction with people outside the household can leave invisible scars. Social skills are just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. And many children need access to vital resources they are only getting from schools.

If schools must close, the good news is that educators know a lot more about managing remote learning than when they unexpectedly became pioneers in the practice almost two years ago.

Gov. Ned Lamont is correct that masks, vaccination and testing — used properly — are the best tools to keep classrooms open.

Ultimately though, the choice won’t be made by the governor, a teacher, a parent or a child. It won’t even be determined by a human. COVID continues to determine the future. If there aren’t enough healthy teachers, staff, bus drivers, etc., districts will have no other choice but to revive virtual classrooms. Some districts have already been forced to close.

We can’t predict what’s next in this pandemic any more than we can control tomorrow’s weather. But we each get to decide if the conversation will move forward with dignity.