Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Hooray, Cd'A: 'Normal' wins the day

| September 27, 2020 1:00 AM

Going yellow takes courage.

That’s what the Coeur d’Alene School Board showed in a crack of dawn meeting Friday, when members unanimously voted to send students back to school five days a week starting Oct. 5.

The switch from an “orange” to “yellow” designation is enormous, and parents districtwide are celebrating the decision.

In orange, considered a moderate risk level for COVID-19, students attend class in their actual classrooms just two days a week. The other three days of this “blended learning” strategy feature remote learning — in other words, via the internet. When attending actual class, students are required to wear a mask.

In yellow, students are back in real class five days a week. It’s like the good ol’ days except everyone’s still required to wear masks, as district officials understand there is some risk to students, teachers and staff.

That risk must be acknowledged. It’s real. Skyway Elementary has been hit by COVID, as has Lakeland High School in the Lakeland School District. But the rewards of going back to school — literally, not virtually, thank goodness — could not be ignored by the school board.

First and foremost, the quality of education, particularly for young children, is heavily dependent upon the teacher at the front of the classroom, making eye contact with students, reading their body language and understanding when the lesson is not getting through. If the tempest of social media and life in a digital universe should be teaching us anything, it’s that it is a pathetic replacement for direct human-to-human interaction.

As social beings, students also benefit from making friends and learning from other students. That ingredient was largely missing from code orange, where students passed each other like strangers in the night.

There’s also the very practical consideration of how in the world parents are supposed to juggle work and other responsibilities with kids at home five out of seven days a week. That hasn’t just been a logistical nightmare for many of them; it’s been a financial hardship that has strained tight budgets to the breaking point.

It’s true that school board members have felt pressure from a substantial drop in enrollment this year, from parents upset that the start of the school year was delayed a week, and then the decision Monday to stay in orange when the crescendo of customer feedback was screaming for yellow. On Friday, they made the very best choice possible, and that took courage because there will also be those quick to rip them if COVID cases spike in the community because of a bunch of sick kids.

If that happens — a spike or a widespread mixture of malaise approaching with flu season — then more drastic steps can be taken. For now, getting nearer to normal is the healthiest approach.