In Our Opinion: With proper mitigation, classroom learning can be done safely

Oak Harbor Schools are bucking the trend across the island and the state by planning to continue with limited in-person classes for students in sixth grade and below.

Some teachers have protested the trend, saying that the school board is putting students and staff at risk of contracting COVID-19 at a time that new cases are increasing precipitously.

It’s an understandable concern.

The danger of spreading the infection, however, can be mitigated by the strict protocols that the school district has already successfully implemented. In addition to smaller classes that rotate between in-person and distance learning, the district has ensured that everyone wears masks and remains separated in the classroom.

Testing is also an important part of the plan. The district is going to require COVID testing for all staff after students return following the holiday break. After that, weekly testing will be voluntary. The cost is kept low by testing in batches.

The new plan adopted by the school board Monday night describes scenarios that would necessitate a return to full-time distance learning. Any instance in which the infection is spread within a school should instigate such a discussion.

The vaccine arriving on Whidbey Island this week is extraordinary news, but it does raise the specter of carelessness. With the end of the pandemic seemingly in sight, there is a concern that people will let their COVID defenses down — which could have disastrous impacts.

Now more than ever, it’s vital that families follow the rules. That means paying attention to symptoms and limiting any chance of exposure by following the rules about travel and social gatherings.

Epidemiologists predict that herd immunity won’t be reached in the nation until mid-summer or possibly later.

Superintendent Lance Gibbon and other school officials have been upfront in their concern about the inequity and unfairness inherent in virtual learning. The system might work well for students who have reliable Internet access and a parent or parents who can stay home during the school day to ensure that they are engaged and completing their work.

Obviously that’s not the case for many students. Every day that distance learning continues is another day that more children fall behind.

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