As parents consider the FCPS reopening scenarios, teachers evaluate their comfort level with in-classroom instruction, and kids wonder what the heck school will look like in two months, we need to keep this in mind: we must approach the upcoming school year with a mindset of manageable risk, not one of no risk.
Distance learning is no substitute for face-to-face in-classroom instruction. Teachers can do a decent job of disseminating the curriculum remotely, but that's not real instruction - it's just putting out information. And perhaps even more important than learning facts and concepts is exercising the "embedded curriculum"... modeling and practicing self-discipline, work ethic, organization, time management, appropriate behavior, etc. That can only happen effectively in the classroom. Likewise, kids might dutifully complete online work, but the structure and the context and the motivation are different. Something's missing. Real learning happens when there's a relationship between student and teacher that results in buy-in and motivation to learn. That can't happen through a computer screen. Finally, there's the social aspect. Kids need social interaction in order to learn - it's the glue that holds the learning process together. Without face-to-face social interaction, we might as well plant fertile seeds in sterile soil.
Of course there are risks, but we can't wait for a vaccine. With appropriate social distancing protocols, aggressive health monitoring, meticulous sanitizing, and persistent safety messaging, there's no reason why we can't have a near-normal opening of next school year. There's no substitute for cheeks in the seats.