This editorial was published by theTri-City Herald of Kennewick.

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While it’s a relief Tri-City COVID-19 cases have dipped low enough to justify opening most Benton and Franklin county schools next month, there are looming questions that have yet to be fully addressed.

And they need to be before school doors open.

The most pressing one is this: Even with all the precautions, what happens if a student tests positive for the coronavirus?

Will a school have to close temporarily? Will classmates have to be quarantined? If that student rides a school bus, will fellow passengers be told to stay home?

Or, will there be an acceptable number of positive cases allowed in the school before extreme action is taken?

These are important questions that should be discussed as local health experts work with school officials in the coming weeks.

So far, it appears the emphasis has been on setting up protocols to make schools as safe as possible, which is commendable.

But no matter how careful the plan, there’s bound to be COVID-19 cases emerging at some point in Tri-City classrooms.

When that happens, what will be the response of health officials?

We ask these questions because it would be better for parents and students — young children, especially — to know what to expect.

Opening school doors only to close them again would be heartbreaking for kids of all ages — from the kindergartners excited to be in school all the way through to high school seniors who want one more year with classmates before graduation.

The Kennewick School Board last week decided in a 4-1 vote to allow limited in-person instruction at its schools for those who want it. The students will be returning in a hybrid model, where they spend two days in class and three days learning online.

Kennewick is the first Tri-City school district to set a timeline for students returning. ...

“At some point, we have to say, we’re going to let some model go into place like we said we were going to do in September to get the kids back in school,” KSD School Board member Ron Mabry said.

His sentiment is understandable, and it has been a goal of health officials to get kids back in school safely. Now that the community is closer to the targeted mark, we fear there may be some sense that we have the pandemic well in hand.

But we know it can flare up again when school starts, and the community should be prepared for that.

In her letter to school officials, Dr. Amy Person, health officer for the Benton Franklin Health District, said that education is a key driver for good health. She also acknowledged that schools feed kids and also monitor their overall well-being, which has been a concern with so many students seen only online.

When students go back to school, they will be expected to wear masks all day and stay apart, which won’t be an easy task — especially on playgrounds.

Tri-City school administrators and teachers have handled themselves admirably during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we applaud all the work that they’ve put in to trying to educate the kids under such trying circumstances.

There surely will be parents who don’t want to send their kids to school, and they shouldn’t be forced to. Online learning should continue to be an option.

But for those students who can’t wait to sit in a classroom and talk to their teachers face-to-face, physically going to school will be a welcome relief.

We just hope the school doors can stay open for the rest of the year.

If there is a high chance that won’t happen, it would be easier on students’ hearts and minds to know it now rather than later.

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