Since the beginning of the pandemic, Maine has prioritized public health. As a result, it is one of the few states that has kept infections under control.

That cautious approach continued this week as the Maine Principals’ Association delayed the start of the fall high school sports season by three weeks. In doing so, they are prioritizing a safe return to the classroom.

It’s the right thing to do. Opening schools this fall – to the degree that it is possible – is important academically, socially and economically, and it should have everyone’s full focus during the important weeks ahead.

And while no one wants to see another season lost to the pandemic, fall sports should not go forward until it is clear it can be done without affecting instruction in the classroom.

The MPA says now that fall practices can begin Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day, with games beginning no earlier than Sept. 18. Massachusetts and New York both have delayed the start of high school season as well.

The MPA is hoping for a full season, with modified playoffs, though it is too early for details.

For one, it’s unclear which schools will be available to play at all. Schools in areas where there remains a high risk of infection may not participate this year.

Ultimately, it will be local school boards that decide how education is delivered and whether their teams play this fall. They, too, should exercise caution.

The fact is, no one knows what to expect when students return this fall, whether at a full or partial in-person schedule. It is unclear how vulnerable students of different ages are to the virus, and how well they can transmit it. Administrators, teachers and staff have never had to deal with anything like COVID-19, and it’s unclear whether they will have the right resources and information.

If the virus is let into a school, it could spread to other students, as well as the adults in the building. It could go home with them, to be spread to wherever their parents, spouses, siblings or roommates spend the day. As we’ve seen again and again, even just one case can multiply quickly into an unmanageable situation.

Even one case in a school will disrupt learning, forcing students to be quarantined, or a whole school to be shut down, depending on the circumstances.

It’s a risk to put students back in the classroom, but with the low case counts in Maine and the ability to mitigate with masks, distancing and hygiene, it’s one worth taking.

Putting students back on the field, however, is not. The risks of playing soccer or field hockey cannot be mitigated as easily, and games simply are not necessary. Maine shouldn’t risk in-person classroom instruction by taking a chance on athletics, certainly not in communities where infections are occurring.

Athletic directors throughout the state emphasized caution when contacted by the Press Herald. That’s right where they should be.

With major health indicators all pointing in the right direction, Maine is in a good position to open schools this fall, however incrementally.

But we need to remember how we got here. We’ve been cautious, and that should continue.


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