Kansas became the first state in the nation Tuesday to declare its schools would close for the remainder of the school year.

By now, a majority of states have closed their schools, though to a lesser degree.

The disruption will be immense and strengthens the argument for year- round school so that when a crisis such as the COVID-19 or a natural disaster occurs, children can get back on track with their education as soon as possible. 

We appreciate the severity of this health crisis and don’t argue with the Governor’s decision to close the schools in order to suppress the spread of the virus. It was a painful, but necessary, decision and one most other states will be forced to make as the full impact of the coronavirus is made evident.

The wisdom of Gov. Kelly making such a proactive decision is that it forces schools to immediately come up with interim models to keep students learning instead of wasting precious time waiting to see how devastating this new virus will be. 

We know from the experience of other countries that unless we take drastic measures to isolate ourselves that the highly contagious virus will spread rampantly and will be increasingly harder to tackle.

No offense, but schools are nothing short of germ factories. Ask any parent.

THE FALLOUT from closing the schools until the fall semester, however, is not to be downplayed.

Most important is the effect on children whose families are ill-prepared to partially assume responsibility for their education in the interim.

Many factors come into play here including:

* A lack of supervision to see that content is adequately studied and lessons completed;

* An unsafe home environment, again because of a lack of adult supervision due to work requirements;

* A lack of social interaction with their peers; and,

* Inadequate nutrition, which impedes learning and development.

For so many of our children, schools are their safety net, a place where they are well-fed and well- cared for.

In Allen County, 27 percent of our children live in poverty, far exceeding the state average of 15 percent. Nation-wide, 21 percent of U.S. children live in poverty.

Almost half, 49.3 percent, of Allen County students receive free or reduced-price lunches.

For many of these children, the meals provided by the school district are their main sources of nutrition with lunch being their only hot meal of the day. Maintaining that service during this five- month hiatus is critical for their health and wellbeing. 

Our fear is that logistics and the social stigma of having to seek out the meals for their children will keep some families away.

AFTER THE COAST is clear, the best-case scenario would be for students to return to school, no matter the month.

Every week lost makes a critical difference to a child’s retention of material learned. And while we commend the education department’s attempts to close this gap with online-based instruction, it will fall short of the tried-and- true method of onsite education. 

To have students go essentially five months without a formal education will put them at an unnecessary disadvantage were school to resume at the first chance possible.

Our 10-month school calendar was created for an agrarian society so children could help their parents during summer harvest. Those same needs no longer prevail.

A better format would be to spread the required 180 days of learning proportionally across the year, creating fewer learning gaps and more flexibility with scheduling — which certainly would have come in handy now. 

KEEPING EDUCATION as the goal, helps us make such decisions.

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