The spring semester ended with my elementary school children waving to a computer, offering their goodbyes and “I miss yous” to faces on a screen. The present-tense-ness of the farewell struck me particularly hard: It wasn’t “I will miss you.” Children have been missing their teachers and classmates for months.

Over the past couple weeks, state and local education departments began releasing plans for fall schooling. These disclosures are as much information as indicators of what is unknown. Some states intend schools to reopen full time while asking students to wear masks and practice social distancing. Others combine rotating periods of in-person learning with days of distance education while offering optional full-time distance learning.

Even for schools and childcare centers that fully reopen, the spread of the virus in the meantime may change those plans. The American Enterprise Institute expects COVID-19 to disrupt school life throughout 2020, with the possibility of rolling closures triggered by new waves of infections or local outbreaks. The same stop-and-start reality will also be true for childcare providers and those who provide care for disabled or elderly people in communal settings. With so many unknowns, families find themselves in a holding pattern, missing teachers, classmates, and friends for an indefinite period of time.

It’s easy to resent the ways COVID-19 precautions have affected the places we love and rely on and dismiss them as the product of insensitive bureaucrats or biased media. But demanding that schools and childcare reopen as usual, virus be damned, displaces risk onto other people and families, including the many teachers who worry about the health implications ...

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