There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to reopening schools this fall. Teachers, administrators, parents and students all know that. But amid all the swirling debates over what practices are best and what aren’t, one thing, at least, is indisputable: We’re all in this together. 

Should protecting students or teachers be the priority? The right answer should be both.

Some schools seem to be learning that the hard way. A student at North Paulding High School in Georgia was suspended last week after tweeting an image of a packed hallway on the first day of school. In the image, few students were wearing masks, and social distancing was nonexistent. 

After public backlash, the student’s suspension was lifted and she was invited to return on Monday. It didn’t last long, though: The school ended up canceling classes on Monday and Tuesday to perform deep cleaning after six students and three faculty members tested positive for COVID-19.

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North Paulding’s neighboring school district was under fire, too, after images spread of tightly packed, maskless students on the first day of classes. Now, Cherokee County School District, also in Georgia, is shut down, asking 800-plus students to quarantine.

As one of the first school districts across the country to reopen, the Cherokee County superintendent is well aware it’s a guinea pig and that America’s watching. “We know we’re under a microscope,” he said in a letter to parents last week. “But know that our decisions are not based on what people in New York or Kansas think, nor are we concerned about ‘optics’ or ‘image’ — we’re focused on what’s doing best for our community.”

He probably won’t think twice about what an editorial board in Utah thinks, either. But we’re paying close attention to what moves the district makes — and hoping our state’s schools don’t follow suit.

Many Utah school districts are now only days away from welcoming back students, and one — Washington School District — reopens today. Opinions on protocols, procedures and policies are all over the map — the natural result of a discouraging lack of leadership and accountability on the topic. But now that schools across the country have already tried, and in some ways failed, Utah schools have at least an idea of what not to do.

Utah schools should, and will, make safety a priority. We’re grateful Gov. Gary Herbert issued a statewide mask mandate for all students. But the gap between principle and practice is sometimes wider than we’d hope. If, at any point, safety protocols make students uncomfortable and put others at risk — say, for example, a hallway full of maskless teenagers — students should speak up. Penalizing them for sounding an alarm when things go awry is wrong. And students should know they can do so without reprimand, and surely without having to consult a whistleblower hotline, as was created in Georgia.

Exposing a school’s missteps, it seems, is far better than exposing a school to COVID-19.

Parents are trusting that school administrators and teachers will be protecting their children. Beyond that, students are trusting other students to do the same. If mistakes occur, transparency and increased caution — not shame — should be the motivator.

Without a shared sense of accountability, “back to school” will become “back to home” in an instant.