Public schools in Teton will all be back in-person and in session on Aug. 26. Power started Aug. 19 and students Choteau, Dutton/Brady, Fairfield and Greenfield along Bynum, Golden Ridge, Pendroy and the Miller and New Rockport attendance centers are all back in the classroom now. Every school, from small to large, has written a health and safety plan designed to prevent students and staff from catching the viral illness, COVID-19. The success or failure of these plans will largely hinge on how compliant students, staff, parents and community members are.

One of the major requirements of almost every plan is that masks will be worn on school property at most times and always when social distancing to a distance of six feet cannot be achieved. Masks have become highly politicized in this polarized time with many people feeling, very strongly, that mask mandates are government overreach and usurpations of individual liberty.

That being said, our teachers, school personnel and students need to be able to go back to school this fall with some semblance of normalcy and to have that happen, we have to keep COVID-19 at bay. That means that we as a community — even if we’re not in school — need to take measures to keep illness rates as low as possible. The best way we can do this, according to the federal Centers Disease Control and Prevention, is to wear masks in public places, indoors and outdoors where social distancing cannot be maintained; wash our hands thoroughly and frequently; and wipe down commonly touched surfaces with germicidal cleaner. Additionally, we can avoid going to crowded indoor or outdoor events, limit our shopping trips to the necessities and keep our circle of contact as small as possible through work and home life.

By doing these things all the time, we can help keep our children in school and we can help our student athletes be able to compete in fall sports.

We also all need to make it a point to thank all the school board members, administrators, teachers, school employees and coaches who have been working so hard to develop these opening plans. There is nothing easy or simple about the COVID-19 pandemic. There are no time-tested protocols to follow for a brand new disease that science is still learning more about every day. All our school administrators are trying their best to find ways to keep children and staff safe and have as normal a school year as possible. Our schools — especially our teachers — need our support as they launch this school year. They need patrons to thank them and parents to be patient and understanding about all the changes and precautions.

They are undertaking a Herculean task getting schools open this week. They need to know how much they are valued and respected.