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The typical challenges faced by school districts can be daunting.

Funding to replace antiquated buildings and purchase evolving technology isn’t readily available.

Prevention of exterior threats and bullying inside the walls requires daily vigilance.

Teacher shortages are pervasive, as are expectations of educators.

All these challenges are formidable in their own right, but they pale in comparison to what schools are facing as they make preparations for the start of this academic year — COVID-19.

When the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March, schools joined businesses and others in closing their doors. As people hunkered in their homes, teaching models shifted to online learning.

But most Hoosier schools — whether willingly or under pressure — intend to offer at least partial in-person instruction this fall, even though coronavirus numbers continue to climb.

How can we safeguard students, teachers, staff and administrators from the virus? Is that even possible? What’s reasonable?

Face masks are a good starting point. School boards should mandate them as an essential safety practice.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages the wearing of face masks as a preventative measure. “Cloth face coverings are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings,” the CDC website states.

Schools by nature are public settings, regardless of how they are funded.

The coronavirus can spread through respiratory droplets that travel through the air when an infected person talks, sneezes or coughs. Masks serve as a barrier, preventing the expulsion of droplets into the air, according to the CDC.

Face coverings are readily available. Surgical masks can be purchased at pharmacies. And many retailers are selling colorful cloth face coverings, including masks for kids that sport team logos and movie heroes.

There are also plenty of do-it-yourself patterns online for those who prefer to repurpose shirts and socks into masks.

Having a face mask is only the first step, though. People have to commit to wearing them.

Parents who plan to send their children back to school this fall should be working with them now, showing them how to wear their masks and teaching them about the importance of doing so.

Getting kids used to masks will make school days more enjoyable for everyone, including teachers, who will have their hands full creating lesson plans for both online and in-person learning, keeping kids socially distant, encouraging hand washing, helping to keep classrooms clean and, oh yes, teaching.

In this environment, it’s not enough for school boards to recommend the wearing of masks by everyone. They should require it.

The News and Tribune, Jeffersonville

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