Three Valley school districts joined Lewisburg Area in adding some sort of mask requirement for some or all students and staff members even before Gov. Tom Wolf took the necessary steps to mandate masks indoors at schools across the state.

With only a little more than a week gone in the school year, cases are on the rise in our Valley schools. Milton had to shut three schools down for two days because dozens of students have either tested positive or are in quarantine because of contacts.

District officials had tough decisions to make before Wolf made the call on Tuesday.

“Please understand that this decision was not taken lightly. In the past week, we have had multiple positive cases that resulted in dozens of students needing to quarantine as a result,” Mount Carmel Superintendent Pete Cheddar said. “This decision was made due to our belief that this choice will ensure our buildings stay open five days per week for in-person instruction and will decrease the number of students that would possibly need to quarantine as inevitable cases rise. Where 40 students needed to quarantine today due to two positive cases, if masks were worn at all times by students, less than five would have had to possibly quarantine.”

That’s why schools need masks right now, like they did a year ago.

The reason Valley schools were able to stay in-person for the majority of the 2020-21 school year is that they followed detailed plans, devised in the weeks and months before the start of the school year. School leaders worked with medical professionals and surveyed parents and found a working model that succeeded.

Significant portions of that model — masking and social distancing — have been, in part, eliminated this year.

We understand the dynamics of the pandemic are different as school kicks off this year. Last September, no one was vaccinated. Today, thousands are in the Valley, and that does make a difference.

But thousands still aren’t, particularly in primary and intermediate schools because children under 12 are still not eligible for a jab.

In Montour County, which houses nearly all of the Danville Area School District, a state-high 71.1 percent of the population was fully vaccinated by Monday according to the state Department of Health. In Northumberland County, it’s more than half: 51.5 percent. State data show 43.9 percent of eligible residents are fully vaccinated in Union County, while the total is 39.0 in Snyder County.

So masking in schools makes sense, especially in schools where most or all students are not eligible. It is our hope more districts consider this sensible approach to keep our children in classrooms this year.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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