“I’M WORRIED. I’m worried about everything. Each possibility I come up with is a bad one . . . I keep waiting for someone higher up to . . . come to their senses. I’m waiting for real leadership, but maybe it’s not going to happen.” That was Jeff Gregorich, superintendent of a small school district in Arizona, talking about having to make the agonizing decision of whether to open schools during a pandemic. Mr. Gregorich, like countless other school officials across the country, finds himself in an impossible situation — thanks to President Trump’s abysmal failure to shape or even attempt an effective strategy to contain the spread of the deadly virus.

Everyone — parents, principals, teachers, government officials and the students themselves — desperately wants a return to the classroom. As Mr. Gregorich told The Post’s Eli Saslow in a wrenching account of the dilemma facing the Hayden Winkelman Unified School District, “These kids are hurting right now.” Remote learning, which many schools turned to when they were forced to close in March, is a poor substitute for in-person instruction. Children need the social supports, interactions and friendships that come with attendance. “I get phone calls from families dealing with poverty issues, depression, loneliness, boredom,” said Mr. Gregorich. “Some of these kids are out in the wilderness right now, and school is the best place for them.”

But he gets “sick to my stomach” when he thinks about opening schools on Aug. 17, as Arizona’s governor is pushing for with his threat to withhold funds for those that stay closed. One of the district’s teachers, Kimberley Lopez Chavez Byrd, died after contracting covid-19 while providing remote summer school instruction in a setting provided with every possible precaution. Still the virus couldn’t be controlled and, said Mr. Gregorich, “That’s what scares me.”

Many parts of the country, including Arizona, are experiencing higher rates of transmission now than at the pandemic’s outbreak. Federal public health officials caution that community spread has to be controlled before schools can open. Disturbing new research suggests that children may spread the virus more easily than previously thought. Schools that have opened in recent days have seen students almost immediately testing positive, resulting in quarantines for students and staff and, in some cases, temporary shutdowns.

None of that has dislodged Mr. Trump — or the Republican governors trying to appease him — from his headstrong push to score political points, no matter the particulars of the local situation. The president and his allies sadly haven’t been the only ones to politicize this fraught issue, as teachers unions in some places have used the pandemic to try to hamstring private and parochial schools. Caught in the middle are school officials such as Mr. Gregorich; teachers such as Heidi Hisrich, who resigned after 13 years at the Indiana school she loved because the reopening was unsafe; and parents such as Joel and Lindsay Barnes, who tried to pull their son out of his Mississippi school after multiple students tested positive. “There’s sadness, and it’s also so much fear,” said Mr. Gregorich.

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