By the time you read this, children and teachers are back in classrooms across Madison County. More than a quarter of the students in the Huntsville School District will be learning virtually, as their parents chose not to send their children for on-site school. Both sides certainly are understandable as the county, nation and world continue to battle the Covid-19 Pandemic.

You’ve heard the expressions thousands of times, but these truly are challenging times, unchartered times and unprecedented times. No matter how much preparations have been taken, we simply don’t know what will happen when school resumes.

Teachers, administrators, maintenance staff and the technology department have all worked hard this summer preparing the schools to be as safe as possible. For virtually learning, a lot of work has centered on new technologies to expand Internet access, by either “hotspots” for cell phones or wi-fi hotspots around the county.

Everybody certainly hopes we won’t have a repeat of the last school year, at least how it ended. Things were moving right along in March when students were sent home. Gov. Asa Hutchinson a bit later closed the schools for the rest of the semester.

I certainly hope Covid-19 doesn’t come into the local schools, but I sure don’t like the odds. If you read or listen to the news, you’ve seen what’s happened already around the country when schools were put back in session. Mass numbers of the coronavirus immediately shut the same doors.

Even in Arkansas, two school districts shut down football last week when coaches and players tested positive for the virus. Districts all have to grapple with having a lot of human bodies in small spaces, such as buses, cafeterias and even classrooms.

Many people don’t show symptoms but can carry around the virus. If they don’t know they have it, how can they protect those around them? I’m afraid having the virus enter a school building or a bus or on an athletic team or a classroom is inevitable. I certainly hope that doesn’t happen here.

I hope it won’t be long before I can hear the marching band practice at the high school parking lot. The sounds of the band rehearsing after school can be heard from the back of our office. It’s nice to get some fresh air and hear the band practicing not far away. I also hope we get to see high school football this fall, or witness a volleyball game in the air-conditioned Charles H. Berry Gymnasium.

Athletic Director Tom McCollough said the initial plan is to have 66 percent seating capacity at football and volleyball games. Those attending will be asked to sit 6 feet apart and wear masks.

I just don’t have a lot of confidence that the pandemic is going to diminish any time soon. Experts have said this fall could be worse than it is now.

Huntsville Superintendent Audra Kimball, in our back-to-school section last week, addressed the new school year.

“Our goal is to continue on-site learning with as much normalcy as possible, but with many extra safety procedures in place. In accordance with the executive order issued by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, face coverings must be worn by staff and students in grades 5-12. In grades K-4 they should be worn as feasible and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult. 

“Careful planning has been put in place for safety precautions in many areas such as transitions, meals, and recess time. Our maintenance department has been busy building some extra safety barriers and custodians have new plans in place for optimal sanitation. Teachers reported back last Thursday for Professional Development and are working to set up their rooms in a manner to social distance as much as possible.” 

Dr. Candra Brasel, superintendent of the Jasper School District, which includes the Kingston campus, wrote, “When I chose to enter the superintendency, I never imagined that our country would be facing the challenges that this pandemic has presented, nor the impact that Covid-19 would have on our schools. Nevertheless, this is our current reality and I feel confident that we are all learning and growing through the challenges that we are facing and will come out better on the other side.” 

Good luck to everyone involved.