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Students must return to school

Gov. Mike DeWine stated last week what we and many around the Valley have believed for quite some time.

It’s time for kids to get back to school.

Just 31 Ohio school districts remain fully remote as result of the pandemic, DeWine said. Youngstown City Schools is among them.

“We have a number of kids who are not doing well with remote learning,” he said.

Students in Youngstown City Schools, particularly, are our focus here because they attend the only local school district that has not returned to in-person learning since students originally were sent home when COVID-19 cases began rising in Ohio nearly a year ago.

Months later, in November, we used this space to praise the governor’s approach of allowing Ohio school districts to decide independently if their students would practice remote or in-person learning.

We still believe that was the correct approach — back then. But this is now. COVID-19 case numbers have fallen, as have the number of hospitalizations and even COVID-19-related deaths.

COVID-19 vaccinations are well underway, and Youngstown City Schools employees have stood in line to receive their shots.

Under the governor’s plan, school districts were required to commit to a March 1 return-to-school plan in order for their employees to be eligible to receive the vaccines at this time.

All but one K-12 school district in the state — Jefferson Township Local School District in Montgomery County — agreed to begin in-person instruction, at least in part, by March 1 in exchange for their staff getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

The state has held up its end of the bargain, and now it’s time for all schools to keep their promises.

Indeed, no one believes COVID-19 is over. We understand risks still exist, but studies have shown most children are more resilient to the virus. Coupled with plans that could alternate in-person attendance, allow for social distancing, mask-wearing requirements and, of course, good hand-washing and hand-sanitizing practices, we believe children can return to their school buildings safely. Let’s face it, every other school district in the Mahoning Valley has established plans for returning kids to school.

And what about the risks that exist for children who don’t return to the classroom this year?

There can be little debate that most children learn better in a structured, educational environment. Based on statewide testing and state report card results, Youngstown City School District students have struggled academically. We worry that this time away from the classroom and the direct, in-person connection with their teachers is only setting them back further.

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

Immense family challenges also 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 those who rely on school lunches to help feed their kids? Or those with children with disabilities or who lack access to internet or health care?

Frankly, we believe these kids need to be in a learning environment.

DeWine is correct in establishing a March 1 deadline for all Ohio schools, including Youngstown City Schools, to start returning to in-person learning.

Until last week, Youngstown school officials, including CEO Justin Jennings, had been noncommittal about their plan to return to their buildings.

But, as DeWine said last week, “It’s about the kids.”

He continued, “We continue to hear throughout this (pandemic), particularly in our urban centers, where kids have been out for a year. They need to get back into school.”

Following urging from the governor, Youngstown school district spokeswoman Denise Dick has acknowledged that details would be forthcoming this week about a return-to-school plan.

“The plan is to return, and details will be announced later this week,” she told our reporter.

Good! We hope the plan has received much consideration, and we, like parents and educators, cannot wait to see it.

editorial@tribtoday.com

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