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Editorial: No safety mandates means community must work to mitigate COVID-19 when schools open in fall

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The key word for parents to remember as they send students back to classrooms in the fall is “optional.”

Leaders at Longview-area districts say they won’t require COVID-19 vaccines or masks for the 2021-22 school year.

This isn’t surprising. Gov. Greg Abbott issued a no-mask mandate to school districts that went into effect in June, and unless the state sees another surge of COVID-19 cases, that’s unlikely to change.

It’s also not surprising that you won’t need to produce documentation of your child’s COVID-19 vaccine for him or her to return to campus.

One reason is federal regulators haven’t even given approval for some children — those younger than 12 — to receive the Pfizer vaccine. And approval for teens and adolescents younger than 18 hasn’t been authorized for the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The important takeaway on districts’ pandemic policies is parents, students and school officials must be responsible for their own health and safety this upcoming school year.

That means continuing cleaning procedures that were implemented at the start of the 2020-21 school year as well as allowing masks and providing opportunities for vaccinations. It also means encouraging personal health measures, such as using hand sanitizer.

It’s encouraging to hear from superintendents and other school leaders that they do plan to keep these safety protocols that were at least partly responsible for the low number of COVID-19 cases in their districts this past school year.

“We’ll keep the cleaning procedures and fogging the rooms, a lot of those things I think helped keep a lot of things at bay other than COVID,” Pine Tree ISD Superintendent Steve Clugston told us. “Those are kind of second nature to the kids now. Those we’ll maintain.”

Clugston’s point is a good one. The sanitization efforts that became “second nature” to most of us, as he said, not only help mitigate COVID-19 but other illnesses as well. (For those of us who consistently used a face mask in the past year-plus, when was the last time you caught a bug, the flu or any other crud?)

Longview-area school leaders also said they will continue to wait for guidance from the Texas Education Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies to determine if changes to health protocols are needed.

In many ways, the pandemic stole pieces of the school experience for students, parents and teachers and staff. We look forward to parents being able to visit their children’s classrooms and students gathering for assemblies and concerts.

But those types of things are privileges earned by continued vigilance to keep health and safety at the forefront, which will keep the virus at bay.

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Today's Bible verse

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:33

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