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Limiting Shock Of ‘New Normal’

Public schools should not be viewed as free babysitting services, it has been said. They also should not be relied upon to ensure children are fed nutritiously, however — and West Virginians have seen the limitations on that during the COVID-19 epidemic. Many school food programs will be continuing this summer, even though such assistance has not been provided in the past.

Like it or not, we have come to depend on schools for much more than educating our children. That has been a problem during the coronavirus epidemic. It may persist when the new school year begins in August.

Public schools in our state were shut down for several weeks at the end of the 2019-20 school year. There was concern about exposing students to disease and about them serving as carriers for the virus.

Last week, state officials gave Mountain State residents a preview of plans for the 2020-21 school year. One idea under consideration is having children in school four days a week, rather than the traditional five.

Decisions may have been made already. “Children will not be coming back to school five days a week, and that is something that’s happening around the nation,” commented state school Superintendent Clayton Burch.

In terms of avoiding another COVID-19 epidemic in West Virginia, one wonders how much good holding children out of school one day a week would do.

There is no question about the effect it would have on many working parents, however. A substantial number of West Virginians rely on schools to provide safe environments for children while parents are at work. Paying for child care is simply out of the question for many of them.

Of course, the safety and education of children must be the primary consideration behind plans for the new school year. But the effect arrangements will have on many parents, their employers and the economy in general needs to be taken into account, too.

COVID-19 came as an unexpected blow to virtually everyone in our state. We have had to cope with it as best we can. There have been tradeoffs, some of them requiring great sacrifices. No thoughtful person expects life will return to what we had settled into six months ago as “normal.”

But especially in how public education affects children and families, the culture shock of the “new normal” needs to be limited as much as possible.

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