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Once kids go back to school, it’s mask up or go home

Schools cannot be lax about this. Parents must get on board, too

coronavirus, masks, Illinois, schools
A student removes his protective mask before walking across the stage to receive his diploma during a graduation ceremony at Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in May.
Scott Olson/Getty

At the moment, it makes sense to open Illinois schools.

As long as coronavirus cases don’t spiral upward dramatically, schools should open in August or September if they can keep students distanced in classrooms, hallways and cafeterias.

That could mean schools with larger enrollments will have to resort to hybrid models for attendance, with students alternating between going to school and participating in remote learning from home.

Schools also will need sufficient staffing, including nurses and janitors.

Beside distancing, wearing facial coverings will be a must. It will be up to school administrators to enforce the mask rule when unruly students and parents defy it.

And some will defy it. You can count on it. I’m not talking about those who will accidentally let a facial covering slip below their nose before lifting it up again. I’m talking about defiant teens who want to push boundaries, or think the virus is a hoax, and class cut-ups looking for laughs.

The solution is simple: Send them home. They can learn remotely.

Schools cannot be lax about this.

Having kids attend school during a pandemic calls for extraordinary measures by administrators to keep students and teachers safe. And the rules must be enforced.

The Illinois State Board of Education was clear about facial coverings in guidance to schools issued last month:

“All individuals in school buildings, including all public and nonpublic schools that serve students in prekindergarten through grade 12, must wear face coverings at all times unless they are younger than 2 years of age; have trouble breathing; or are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the cover without assistance. Face coverings must be worn at all times in school buildings even when social distancing is maintained.”

We know that people who are symptom-free or barely have any symptoms can spread this deadly virus. Facial coverings and social distancing of at least six feet can reduce the virus’ reach.

Those who don’t follow the rules will pose a public health risk.

If students, or their parents, don’t have the maturity to understand why we need masks, especially indoors, they have a viable alternative — learning from home. No, it’s not ideal but it creates a safer learning environment for everyone else. The needs of many must take precedent over the selfish desires of a few.

Facial coverings quickly became a polarized issue in this country, to our detriment. It doesn’t help that President Donald Trump has rarely promoted their use.

Already in Illinois, the mother of a fourth-grade student has filed a lawsuit against Quincy Public Schools over face coverings and the temperature checks that also are required by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Other parents might be expressing doubts at home about the need for masks, distancing and other measures designed to curb the virus’ spread. Kids are listening.

“Children and teenagers will follow the lead of adults,” teacher Heidi Moe of Dixon said in a survey by Shaw Media Illinois, according to the Northwest Herald. “Children and teenagers will follow the lead of adults. Adults are handling this incredibly selfishly and that behavior is being mimicked. If you want school to be open in the fall, then all adults need to do their part in accepting the role of face masks for our current society. Otherwise 95% of your child’s education will be monopolized by face mask policing. We want to do our jobs, we want to educate our students, we need society to help students [of all ages] accept this new aspect of life.”

Parents must get on board and make sure their kids get it, too.

Just as schools don’t tolerate kids making jokes about bringing guns or bombs to school, there can be no messing around when it comes to this virus.

“To me, walking into a school or a hospital not wearing a mask is tantamount to walking into a school or a hospital carrying a gun or a knife,” Dr. Kenneth Alexander, who is chief of infectious disease at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, was quoted saying in Chalkbeat, an education news website. “It has real potential to injure somebody.”

Those who don’t want to cooperate should stay home.

Marlen Garcia is a member of the Sun-Times Editorial Board.