Finding a path to safely reopening schools this fall will be the next great challenge amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are a million questions — and probably more than haven’t been thought of yet — that will need to be answered to permit a safe, successful and long-term return to the classroom. Many of those answers are just the first steps, secondary protocols will be required for dozens of practices.

As administrators, school boards, educators and medical professionals — with some input from parents — work on plans that fit their individual school districts, it is imperative that these plans are not rushed.

There are little more than two months until the 2020-21 school year is scheduled to begin in mid-August or early September. Return to school plans don’t need to be done this week. Or next.

They need to be done right. There is only going to be one shot to get this right.

Danville School Board Vice President Vic Marks, a physician, called out his own board last week when he felt like directors rushed a plan to permit student-athletes to begin volunteer workouts this week. Marks said the board was showing a “lack of planning and leadership,” perhaps the two most vital components moving forward in this process.

The north star must always be the health and safety of students and teachers. If you can’t guarantee those two things at the most basic level, a return to the classroom is a non-starter. The health and safety of students and teachers must lead every discussion and until those boxes are checked, remote learning remains the only option.

Many parents will tell you, how much learning happened in the three months of the 2019-20 school year will be seen as soon as kids return to school.

While it is imperative we return to as normal a process as possible, it cannot come at the price of safety.

Among the issues that must have concrete answers for each and every school district: How to get kids to and from school; how to ensure schools are cleaned sufficiently; how to ensure schools recognize ill students and isolate them promptly to protect other students; staggered schedules for in-person and remote learning; Social distancing in cafeterias and other public areas; should students and staff wear masks and will there be temperature checks; managing extra-curricular activities, including band, chorus and sports; what happens if there is a positive test?

We trust these discussions have been ongoing for months already. Planning and leadership are required now more than ever. 

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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