Heroes is fitting title for teachers

Most children need to be in school.

We doubt few would disagree with that statement.

In July, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said health risks of keeping schools closed can be greater than those of opening them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also has cited educational and social harms that can come with keeping children of away from school for prolonged periods of time.

Indeed, studies have shown that learning in groups can help students better understand classroom material.

But studies, health organizations and education-based organizations like the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association also publicly have called for in-class learning only if it can be done in a way that keeps everyone safe.

And therein lies the rub.

In recent weeks, like all the nation, local school districts began seeing drastic increases in numbers of students and staff exposed to COVID-19.

All Trumbull County schools last week ended in-person learning, for now, and returned to all remote learning. Some Mahoning County schools have done the same thing. Still others are providing an option of learning in person or online.

Obviously, children get much more than academics at school. They also learn social and emotional skills, get healthy meals and exercise, have mental health support and other services that cannot be easily replicated online.

Immense challenges come with keeping children at home during this pandemic. We empathize with families who struggle with issues that go beyond education and child care.

What about families who rely on school lunches to feed their kids? Or those with children with disabilities or who lack access to internet or health care?

Many Mahoning Valley educators have spoken in support of keeping students in school since COVID-19 took over our lives some nine months ago.

Warren Superintendent Steve Chiaro, for instance, earlier this month expressed hope to keep students in person as long as they could — so long as everyone was staying safe.

“The schools are among the safest places children can be, which is what we are being told by the health officials,” Chiaro said in an article published Nov. 18.

He is not alone in those beliefs.

And that’s why it’s even more commendable that school leaders, facing these tough decisions, have done such an excellent job of reacting by doing what is right for each individual school district.

Likewise, we commend the governor and Ohio Department of Health for realizing these decisions are very individualized and thereby allowing them to be made on the local level.

These challenges go beyond anything local educators ever have faced, and, yet, they stepped up to ensure student and teacher safety are the priority. The entire system has turned on a dime to meet educational, nutritional and emotional needs of children.

Many local districts were faced with finding technology to allow students in geographical or economic situations that did not easily allow connectivity to online classrooms.

In Youngstown City Schools, officials made the difficult decision at the start of this school year to go all virtual, and recently district CEO Justin Jennings suspended district athletics, effective immediately.

“The decision to suspend winter sports wasn’t an easy one, but it’s the right one,” Jennings said last week.

Youngstown City Schools has begun offering physical education and social-emotional learning programs to students in an attempt to keep children engaged and physically active.

Parents and the community at large should be impressed with these types of steps. We know we are.

For those school districts still offering in-class learning, we are equally impressed with the immense planning for things as simple as seating arrangements and locker access, not to mention ability to conduct contact tracing when a student or teacher becomes ill, and contingency plans for quarantine.

Likewise, we commend school custodial and maintenance staffs, charged with the daily cleaning well beyond routine pre-COVID tasks to now include constant disinfecting of buildings and high-touch areas.

When teachers and staff are ill or under quarantine, substitutes are hard to come by these days. Many of our educators are finding themselves with dual schedules that mean teaching some students in the classroom and others online.

Imagine teaching a foreign language wearing a face mask, or high-level mathematics and science courses with laboratories online. Or imagine being a kindergarten teacher who is unable to hug a small child who fell on the playground.

We understand this has not been easy.

We are proud of our educators, school staff and our students.

We hear the term “heroes” often these days. Indeed, that title is fitting of those who are working so hard to educate our kids and to keep them safe.



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