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Editorial: Choose caution for schools

Call it the COVID-19 culture wars. 

Communities across America are mostly facing the same tough issues and decisions right now. And perhaps because COVID-19 has shut down what might otherwise be a busy political season debating any range of issues, virus-related items are easy to politicize on a national scale — from wearing a mask to reopening schools. 

With less than a month until school starts in North Carolina, public education has been a particular focus of political energy of late. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say it’s safe to reopen schools for public instruction, according to national polling. While Rowan County is redder than most, people of all political persuasions say reopening schools should be secondary to public health.

So, what should we expect here?

Gov. Roy Cooper’s announcement last week was one that gives local school districts the option to choose how students and teachers return. And while a number of North Carolina districts are going online-only, Rowan-Salisbury Schools is planning for a hybrid model that puts students in buildings two days per week. Teachers are in classes for four days. Online-only is an option, too, and the response to a virtual K-8 created by RSS shows there’s a strong demand among parents. 

The school board is scheduled to discuss the matter during a meeting Monday at 5 p.m. They should put aside positions derived from politics and focus on what’s best for students and educators, which requires more caution than they might otherwise use in online comments. 

Board member Travis Allen in a widely shared Facebook post focused on children and that a large number of nursing home residents have died from the virus when he asked, “Why are we shut down? Why are our kids not playing sports! Why are we not going to school as normal!!!!!”

Even if Cooper had allowed students to go to school as normal, the RSS staff plan is a good one that will offer limited in-person time for those who need or want it. That shouldn’t prevent questions, but board members should prioritize caution when deciding on a final plan rather than repeating talking points from the country’s COVID-19 culture war. An outbreak in a school could easily produce hundreds of cases.

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