With proper precautions, risk can be managed to benefit young minds.

It’s easy to tell decision-makers how they ought to address pandemic issues, when one is not accountable for the choices.

Still, with that in mind, we encourage the Beloit School District to get students back into in-person education as early as possible for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.

Board members and administrators have played it cautious since early last spring, when the novel coronavirus first heightened global concerns. For the most part, that’s been the wise course.

At the beginning, it was unknown how the virus might impact students and staff. While it became relatively clear early on that older people with underlying conditions were at more risk than children and teens, that still was not certain. School staff certainly could be vulnerable and, sometimes, so could the kids.

The science today suggests young people can be safely educated, and risks can be reduced for staff by strictly adhering to public health guidelines. The nation’s leading infectious disease spokesperson, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has urged communities to get kids back in school, suggesting with some degree of levity that it could be smart to close bars and open schools. Likewise, the American Academy of Pediatricians has recommended resuming in-person classes, doing so with caution and safety-first protocols, not only to support learning but also for social development purposes.

The hard fact is this: Beloit students have missed the equivalent of nearly one year of school. With all due respect to educators who have tried hard to make virtual schooling available and effective, it remains a weak substitute for engaged classrooms. To no one’s surprise, a Beloit Daily News examination of student engagement with distance learning indicates some students do well, many muddle along and a smaller but still significant percentage are barely connected at all.

It will take years for experts to know with certainty just how deeply impacted a generation of students has been by the pandemic, but it seems probable the adverse effects are significant. Make-up work will need to be intense. And it will be a miracle if some of the most vulnerable students avoid life-long consequences.

None of that is anybody’s fault. None of it is deliberate. Blame the virus, not your kid’s teacher or the building principal or the school board. There was no script for this drama. Education leaders had to make it up as they went.

With the holidays, there are a few weeks to plan and get this right. Bringing students to class is the right goal. Maybe in a hybrid model. Maybe with parental options. But with a focus on getting structure back into Beloit schooling.

Today’s kids won’t get a second chance at a quality educational experience. Be careful, but be resolute about the value of classroom education.