We know they mean well.

State health and education officials are working their hardest to protect the health of Pennsylvania school students and staff and all Pennsylvanians.

It's just that sometimes it seems as if they want to test our patience by rolling dice to determine their decisions, or come out with new guidance or recommendations later than many think they should.

The most recent example is the state's sudden mandate that school students will have to wear face masks all day in school, even if they are more than six feet away from other people. That change came down on Monday, less than two weeks before the Danville Area School District originally was going to start classes. Previously, the state said students could remove their masks if they were six feet away from others.

Now the only exceptions to the rule are if students are eating, they are facing some sort of danger, or if they take a break of no more than 10 minutes while six feet away from everyone else, Superintendent Ricki Boyle said.

“All this money we spent,” she said. “We bought desks instead of tables so we can make the distance appropriate, so we’d keep six feet social distance.”

Boyle said the district used COVID funds to set up their classrooms for a six-foot distance so students didn’t have to wear masks all of the time. She said teachers removed any excess in the classroom to make sure everyone would be six feet apart.

“And now it doesn’t matter,” she said.

State officials based their new mask requirement on guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which last week released an update to their guidance strongly recommending children age 2 and older should wear face coverings at all times to help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Boyle already was frustrated because the state only last week provided school leaders with advice about how to respond when students or employees with confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been on school property — from cleaning and tracing their contacts to shutting down buildings for two weeks or longer. The latest requirement that students wear masks at all times added to her frustration.

It's not as if school districts are a mom-and-pop store with three employees. Boyle said administrators spent months planning details of the school reopening.

"We can't turn on a dime," the superintendent said.

In a case of even more uncertainty, Gov. Tom Wolf is recommending school districts play no sports until January. Meanwhile, the PIAA, which schedules and oversees high school sports in Pennsylvania, can't seem to decide if there will be sports, though, for now, it seems as if they are a go. They are scheduled to vote today ahead of practice starting on Monday.

Matthew Stem, deputy secretary in DOE’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, wrote in Monday's email to districts that the guidance the state releases is rooted in science, data and research.

“As more data and research becomes available, the information that becomes guidance must evolve," Stem wrote.

We just wish the state would help that information evolve in time for school districts to coordinate safe openings.

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