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The decision to open our schools must be a local one

The decision to open our schools must be a local one

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The president correctly wants all Texas schools to reopen next month so all children can return to class. Normally on this, we would agree with him.

But this time, we can't. Not in this time of the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision on whether to reopen must be made at the local level, by school officials in consultation with health experts and, most important, with parents. Even President Donald Trump seems to have reached the same conclusion, at least as late as last Thursday.

Fortunately, the schools of the Brazos Valley ignored the announcement by the president and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has the knack of being on the wrong side of just about every school issue. Only a few days ago, both of them mandated that every school across America welcome their students back for the fall term. The president even threatened to withhold federal money from any school district that doesn't reopen. That's the image we want: our president threatening school administrators for not following the official Washington line.

It just makes sense that local school boards and administrators and health officials all across this great land know best whether to reopen schools this fall. In some places, it makes sense to reopen. Many places have been affected only slightly by COVID-19. They probably could bring back all the students without any problems.

But many schools districts -- such as those in Texas, Florida, Arizona and California, are in the midst of a resurgence of the coronavirus. Many people think leaders in those states, reopened businesses too soon. Perhaps, but certainly, people in those states -- as in all others -- were eager to put the pandemic behind us. After three or more months of staying home, people were past ready to return to life as we once knew it -- and may never know again.

Much of the blame for the resurgence of the coronavirus goes to those among us who refused to listen to government guidelines suggesting everyone wear a mask when they could not stay at least 6 feet from everyone else. Who can forget those scenes from beaches so packed not a grain of sand could be seen or bars so crowded they served as a human petri dish? Americans rarely show much common sense when it comes to protecting their health by following simple, basic rules.

The school districts in College Station and Bryan -- as well as many others throughout the Brazos Valley -- will use a hybrid system to start the school year, offering classes in person or on line, at least for the first weeks of the fall semester. Both districts are offering students the chance to do course work at home, but go to school for labs and training that must be done in person. No district is pressuring parents or students to go one way or another. The choice is entirely up to the parents and students.

We know parents are tired of trying to teach their children -- appreciation for teachers is probably at its highest level. We also understand that many children are ready to return to school -- this is the longest they have been out of school since they were toddlers. We applaud our school districts for making our campuses as safe as possible for those students who do go back to class next month. And we thank them for offering classes on line for the more cautious among us.

And, of course we understand the natural human desire to put the pandemic behind us. We long to watch a football or baseball game in person. We miss the summer of blockbuster movies that brought us back to the theater week after week. We miss eating in our favorite restaurants. We long to go to church with our fellow believers, to hear our beautiful choirs, to sing our hearts out. We want to party, to vacation, to travel safely, to visit with friends and family.

Unfortunately, as we sadly learned in recent weeks, the coronavirus is not done with us yet. Like every person around the world, we impatiently await a vaccine that will halt the spread of COVID-19. But that is a few months off, possible not until next year. We must be sure the vaccine is effective and will not harm us.

Until then, please follow the guidelines about social distancing -- and be sure to wear a mask whenever you are in public. It is the cool -- and safe -- thing to do.

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