Benjamin Rugg

Benjamin Rugg

We all want children to return to school for in-person instruction this fall. However, there has been a great deal of debate about what that return should look like.

Should schools reopen for face-to-face instruction? Should they start virtually until the virus is under more control? Should schools use some sort of hybrid model to help mitigate novel coronavirus exposure?

As we ponder these questions, something else that we should consider is that we cannot return to in-person instruction unless we can ensure the safety and health of all of our students, all of our staff, and all members of the families and communities to which they return each night.

The reality is that there are no easy answers to the questions that face educators, school districts and families right now and we would all do well to allow a little grace for others as we navigate these uncharted waters.

We cannot keep everyone safe and healthy, unless we all do our part. For instruction to be in person this fall, everyone who is able to do so must follow the guidelines set forth by the state in order to control the spread of the virus. Wear your mask. ocially distance at least 6 feet from others. Avoid unnecessary gatherings and trips. Do these things. Every. Single. Day.

In addition, we also will have to follow the guidelines being established by our school districts to make this a reality. If your school-age children haven’t been wearing a mask before now, there is plenty of time to practice. Get them used to the feeling now to alleviate anxiety about it later.

If your school district is asking you to screen for symptoms at home, please do so diligently. If your child exhibits symptoms, please keep the child home.

Turn this experience into a growth opportunity for our children. Make this a lesson in perseverance, empathy and compassion. Small, simple acts can protect those around us, ourselves, and help to enable a return to face-to-face instruction.

Beyond what we can do for others, we also may need to block out a lot of political noise. We must follow the advice of scientists and medical experts, who have literally studied and trained for years to prepare for situations like these. Politicians, who are looking to score political points by vilifying the guidelines, are not helping to unite our commonwealth and create a scientifically informed citizenry to tamp down this virus. We need our elected officials to follow the lead of the experts.

Recently, a research report was created by Mathematica for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. It modeled the impact that the virus could potentially have on several different scenarios for reopening Pennsylvania’s schools. According to the report, any reopening of schools likely will increase infections among those in attendance. Of course, this will be influenced by the number of cases present in the greater community. Furthermore, schools can significantly slow the spread of infection by layering multiple mitigation efforts into their reopening plans.

If we cannot — or if we refuse to — do enough simple things that can help to protect ourselves and others, then we will not accomplish the goal of controlling the virus enough to ensure the safety of all students, staff and members of their communities. If that is the case, then we have a moral obligation to also prepare to begin the year virtually until the virus has been controlled adequately.

For parents who are concerned about returning to in-person instruction, please contact your districts about their own cyber options, which most have been working to strengthen since the spring. The curricula in local districts’ cyber options should dovetail with the district’s curriculum, making it a much smoother transition to return to the classroom when the COVID-19 crisis ends. Another plus: If you choose to go that route, you will keep your tax dollars invested in the schools and the educators you have grown to know and love because of how they have nurtured your children over the years.

Again, our No. 1 priority must be that we can ensure the safety and health of all of our students, all of our staff and all members of the families and communities to which they return home each night. In order to reopen our schools for in-person learning, everyone must do their part.

Benjamin Rugg has been a second grade teacher in the Cornwall-Lebanon School District for 17 years. He is vice president of Southern Region Pennsylvania State Education Association, but he wrote this column as an individual teacher, not in his role with the union. He resides in Lititz.