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Trying to get back on track

Fall classes already have begun at some colleges and universities. During the next few weeks, hundreds more will attempt to do so.

COVID-19 is enough of a threat in many states that some institutions of higher learning will not be allowing in-person classes, at least at first. Students will have to get by with online learning.

Other colleges and universities are attempting to begin the semester in something approaching normal — but with extensie adaptations such social distancing in classrooms and laboratories. Some plan to hold classes for only the first part of the semester, sending students home early for the holiday break.

Virtually all colleges and universities are emphasizing that if campus outbreaks of COVID-19 are experienced, everything may change.

It should. In some ways, higher education campuses are serving as test laboratories for elementary and secondary education. Obviously, there are many similarities. If things go badly wrong in higher education, it will be a red flag for public school officials throughout the nation.

Private institutions of higher learning will be left to their own devices — unless outbreaks serious enough to attract the attention of public health agencies occur. If that happens, campuses should be shut down, to the extent that is possible. By that, we mean that simply telling all students to go home immediately is not practical.

The same is true for many public colleges and universities, with the difference that they are under local or state government control. Again, officials with the authority to do so should not hesitate to suspend classes if serious outbreaks of COVID-19 are detected.

Obviously, we cannot all cower at home forever, out of fear of the virus. College and university officials attempting to get their students back on track are to be commended. But COVID-19 is a killer ­– and college students are not immune. If things on campus go bad, officials should not hesitate to suspend classes this fall.

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