Parents in the Tahlequah school district and others in Cherokee County might as well start making plans now, because there's a good chance their kids will have to shelter at home this fall - at least part of the time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a number of unprecedented challenges upon Americans in general, and Oklahomans in particular. With a Legislature that has given public education short shrift in recent years - local representatives' efforts notwithstanding - the public has to wonder how schools will fund operations with the additional burdens the virus has wrought.

Even with additional precautions in place, many parents will be afraid to send their children into an environment replete with individuals who are cavalier about the situation on the ground. What parent with a child whose immune system is compromised will happily place that child in a classroom with neighborhood kids who have been on play dates, in close quarters, with no masks? Or whose parents refuse to social distance and instead hang out in places where others are elbow to elbow?

Tahlequah Public Schools, at this point, is offering options: returning to the classroom, distance learning from home, or a combination of the two. It's the best they can do, considering that administrators and board members - almost all of whom are parents themselves - want to protect the kids. The same is true for other districts in this county. But yet, children must learn; they cannot get behind their peers in other, perhaps better, circumstances. And what about the teachers and support staff? Don't they, too, deserve to be safe in their workplaces?

The real tragedy is that with just a few weeks of following proper protocols, we might not be facing this sad dilemma. Without the defiance of some adults who refuse to believe this pandemic is real, or consider at least temporarily setting aside their "freedoms" for the well-being of society as a whole, the virus might not have gotten the foothold it has today. We should make it clear we aren't talking about people who can't wear masks for health reasons, or even those who cling to uncovered faces as a matter of personal liberty, but are taking other steps to avoid possibly infecting someone else, or becoming infected themselves.

The biggest problem will be the working parents whose children are too small to leave at home alone, or too undisciplined to undertake their studies without supervision. What will they do? Will their employers allow them to work at least partly from home? Is it even possible? It's kind of hard to do when you are a cashier; an automobile salesperson; a restaurant server; or another individual whose presence on site is mandatory.

We hope the hoaxers - and those who believe the virus is real, but not serious - will set aside their cynicism long enough to think about schools reopening, football teams taking the field, and bands marching and playing instruments. It is indeed ironic when those who claim to be people of faith won't treat others as they themselves wish to be treated.

No one wants another shutdown. Let's all do our part to make sure that doesn't happen - and that our kids can soon return to school. That means following the best advice of medical and scientific experts, and leaving politicians twisting in the wind.

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