As the summer was ending, the leadership of our schools found themselves between a rock (the coronavirus) and a hard place (the start of the fall semester).

Everyone, it seemed, had their own plan, advice, solution on how to proceed once it was time for classes to resume.

In the end, Credit Cobb and Marietta school officials with formulating a safe, reasonable plan that made the most sense in unprecedented conditions.

Both local school superintendents, Chris Ragsdale in Cobb and Grant Rivera in Marietta, are adamant that no one wants all kids to be back in the classroom more than they do. But the rise in cases this summer made a forced return to in-school instruction a foolhardy proposal.

The eventual hybrid and phased-in approaches to the academic year reflect both the commitment of the school leaders to resume in-person learning and their concerns over the safety of their students, faculty and staff. Giving students and their parents that option was clearly the right thing to do.

The divide between those wanting children to be taught face to face and those still leery of the virus’ spread is no more clear than in the following figures: Forty-nine percent of Cobb students — 52,000 — have signed up for in-person learning this semester, which is set to resume Oct. 5 for some. Another 37,000, or 35 percent, have been signed up to learn virtually for the remainder of the semester. Sadly, 16% of the district’s students haven’t made a choice yet, despite the deadline to do so having passed.

Cobb schools started the year online only Aug. 17 due to the pandemic, and the phased reopening plan provides elementary school students and many special education students in kindergarten through 12th grade with the option of returning to face-to-face instruction on Oct. 5. Superintendent Ragsdale said that schedule depends on a continuing downtrend in the community spread of the coronavirus. Students have the option of choosing to attend the next semester in-person or virtually in December.

In Marietta, Superintendent Rivera said students at Marietta Middle School and Marietta Sixth Grade Academy may choose to resume in-person learning Oct. 26. Students at Marietta High School will have the option of returning Nov. 9. Students whose parents opt for in-person learning will attend district classrooms Monday through Thursday. Fridays will remain virtual.

The continued decline in the coronavirus in Cobb County as well as the successful return of the district’s youngest students two weeks ago “gives us greater confidence and safety as our middle and high school students change classes each day,” Rivera said.

Rivera was reassuring on measures taken to cope with the virus. “From temperature checks to additional custodial disinfecting to required face coverings, our safety protocols have been successfully implemented and we are confident in our ability to expand such measures,” according to the superintendent.

When students return to their classrooms, they will have to wear face masks and have their temperature checked before boarding a bus or entering a school building. There will be hand sanitizers throughout school buildings and on school buses, desk shields in the classrooms and water fountains turned off.

These efforts and making the tough decisions reflect our school officials’ commitment to providing classroom instruction while doing everything possible to keep our children and their teachers safe from the coronavirus in an unprecedented epidemic. While criticism along the way was steep — and often unproductive — our school superintendents and the school boards deserve the support and gratitude of parents, students — and the entire community for getting an exceptional job done in these very exceptional times.

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