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Editorial: Some answers will remain unclear for mountain of questions

The start of the next school year is sooner than it might seem, and questions abound about how to safely return students to the hallways they left months ago.

With the caveat that COVID-19 could change things significantly, the 2020-2021 school calendar sets Aug. 4 as the start date for students, leaving slightly less than two months for planning. That means just several weeks to plan for critical considerations like how nearly 18,000 students will return to class.

How will the district ensure the safety of students and staff who are at higher risk for a severe case because of their age? And if students are forced to be out of the classroom again due to COVID-19, how can the district mitigate the degree to which learning loss is compounded from the long break that started in March?

What about sports? These are amateur athletes who are not being compensated for the risk they’ll take. Is it wise to allow fans? The North Carolina High School Athletic Association said Monday that sports can resume on June 15 with a number of restrictions, including that team travel is not permitted. Football players can’t wear protective equipment yet. They can participate in conditioning and individual drills.

Put simply, there’s a mountain of questions to figure out and not much time to create a plan.

The Rowan-Salisbury School System polled more than 4,000 parents in an effort to gauge opinions. That survey used a scale of 1-5, with 5 being most comfortable and 1 being least comfortable. Those results will provide valuable parent opinions as school system leaders navigate questions. One curious result: More than 50% of parents chose No. 1 or No. 2 when asked how comfortable they are with their child wearing personal protective equipment to school.

About 25% of parents said they were undecided about whether they would send their rising kindergartner to school in the fall and 7.1% said they would not.

A news release from Gov. Roy Cooper’s office on Monday said state government will announce by July 1 which of the three plans should be implemented for schools to most safely reopen: — minimal social distancing, moderate social distancing or remote learning only. But it’s obvious those plans are subject to significant change based on the spread of coronavirus. It’s unclear, too, whether the state, Rowan-Salisbury or any school system will be able to answer the entire list of questions they face about the coming school year.

At the moment, school leaders are planning for the safest possible way to open schools at the start of the next year, regardless of whether that means opening a physical building, with three or four backup plans ready to go at a moment’s notice.

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