2010xx-yh-news-privateschools-2.jpg

Students in Kathy Wangler’s first-grade class eat lunch at their desks with protective barriers Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, at St. Joseph Marquette Catholic School in Yakima, Wash.

If only the Yakima Valley’s handful of private schools were a microcosm of the county overall in its fight to control and conquer COVID-19.

As of late October, Yakima County’s nine private schools had reported just two COVID-19 cases since welcoming students back to in-class learning at the beginning of the school year. Let’s hope the trend continues as colder weather sets in and students find fewer opportunities to be outside.

It helps that health and safety protocols are being strictly followed and in many cases have become second nature, school officials say, including masks, social distancing, temperature checks, extra cleaning procedures and screening questions. Fever? Go home. Exposed to the virus, or someone in your family exposed to the virus? Stay home. When you’re at school, follow the rules.

So far, so good.

It would be very nice indeed — and overly simplistic — if the rest of us could just point fingers and say “See, folks? It can be done. Let’s get our public schoolkids back in the classroom — and open up the economy while we’re at it.” And to a degree, the example being set by the county’s private schools is encouraging indeed.

But private schools march to their own drummers to a large extent, following their own rules and guidelines and exercising a greater ability to control their environment — including smaller class sizes, overall smaller enrollment and the ability to take a more no-nonsense approach to student discipline. In addition, they offer remote learning for families that aren’t ready to send their children back to school.

These were big factors when the decisions were made to go against the advice of the Yakima Health District and reopen in-class learning back in August and September. And the schools are staying true to public health guidelines because they want to avoid outbreaks and remain open, private school officials say.

Both COVID-19 cases were from the same classroom at Sunnyside Christian School. Officials immediately contacted the Yakima Health District for advice.

The advice they heard: Quarantine and monitor the students in the classroom, allowing the remainder of the school to continue in-person learning.

The actions they took instead: Closed the elementary campus and sent everybody home for the week. The class in question was expected to stay away longer.

Could a public school do that? Maybe. But would it?

Local public schools are just now beginning to bring students back to campus — slowly, which is wise. But outbreaks can strike at any time, anywhere, and quickly — and we’re witnessing a recent uptick in infections across the state and the nation. Again, as of late October, there had been 28 confirmed cases among all county schools this fall, primarily among staff, according to the health district.

Another health district official has noted that, in the name of openness, the health district plans to tell about school-related positive COVID-19 cases on its website. Listings will include the school, the date of the positive result, whether it was a student or staff member, and whether there may have been school transmission.

“Superintendents are very much in support of that to be transparent,” said Ryan Ibach, health district chief operating officer. “To prevent any rumor mills going around and to get consistency.”

For an editorial board that preaches transparency in public dealings, we view that as a smart decision, and we’re confident that parents and others in the community will do so as well.

Meanwhile, whether you, the reader, are attached to a private school, public school or — as we all endure pandemic-related restrictions — the school of hard knocks, we remind you of something else we preach: precaution. We’ve come this far, and the greatest success Yakima County has enjoyed in its fight against COVID-19 is directly related to the number of people who are wearing masks, washing their hands and in general following health and safety guidelines. This is no time to stop.

Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Bruce Drysdale.