Countless people have paid a heavy price during the coronavirus pandemic. Some have paid the ultimate price by dying from the devastating virus, others unable to visit loved ones infected or in congregate care because of possible exposure, employees who have lost their jobs and/or lost wages, and businesses that have folded or on the brink of closure.

There’s another group hurting just as badly, though the damage might not be as obvious, at least right away. Students enduring the COVID crisis are being shortchanged with their education.

While every effort is being made to provide the best education possible during this unprecedented time, the education being put forth between hybrid and remote settings presents a new challenge, not to mention a built-in excuse. No offense to public school systems, after all, this is fluid crisis that requires as much emphasis on the health and safety of students and teachers as implementing an educational strategy.

In fact, under the circumstances, Rutherford County Schools has seemingly done the best job possible at educating its students while keeping everyone safe.

Leave it to a 100-year pandemic to expose the weaknesses in America’s public education, especially those students with fewer resources, less discipline, a lack of family structure and habitats of a haphazard environment. In other words, those kids deemed “at-risk” are especially vulnerable at this time.

Even under the best of circumstances, delivering a well-rounded education to any student during a pandemic is challenging. Extra reinforcements are necessary during this unique time, such as more parental involvement and increased accountability for both students and parents as well as school districts.

By their carefree nature alone, kids are always looking for the path of least resistance, which includes gaming the system whenever possible. It takes awhile before they understand the “you’re only cheating yourself” lesson.

While academically-gifted students or those naturally responsible are more inclined to do whatever is necessary to remain successful, those with less motivation often will not.

Let’s face it, we rely on schools to do more than educate our children. Schools are de-facto daycares that babysit children for much of the day. For many, schools ensure kids a meal, at least two a day. For some households, it’s their only guaranteed nutrition.

Schools also provide children with structure and discipline often void in single-parent homes or those riddled with dysfunction for various and unfortunate reasons, including addictions and, on occasions, criminal activity.

For may kids, schools are indeed a safe place, aside from a facility for learning.

Life lessons as much as academics are taught at schools with teachers and faculty, at times, substituting as mentors and social workers, among a few other unintended roles.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a number of unintentional inequities within today’s public education. Issues like access to internet and electronic devices warrant timely attention.

Meanwhile, there remains the issue of how to ensure the best possible education when students are not required to be physically inside the classroom and compelled to learn remotely.

Nevertheless, this is not the time to go soft.

Remote education during a pandemic should start with an increase of accountability for students, teachers and administration. Since remote learning is a new, even foreign, concept to students, more so for at-risk students plagued with other challenges, teachers need to institute more checks and balances that ensure all students are participating in assignments remotely. Hopefully, there are daily tests to monitor student success or failure. If a student is not keeping pace, there needs to be consequences. Conversely, administration should hold teachers responsible for the tighter monitoring.

Contemporary education differs from past strategies that failed students for not meeting minimum academic standards. Today, educators prefer all kids, regardless of academic success or failure, advance to the next level, even it means graduating students that actually did not meet minimum standards. They fear such failure might follow a student and contribute to joblessness and other disadvantages in life. Often failing and at-risk students are transferred to alternative schools so the student and the school district avoid the educational scar.

Now is not the time for molly-coddling. If a student is not cutting it and using the pandemic as a way to game the system, the student must face the consequence of failing a grade or not graduating, whatever the case may be. This is how you grow responsible adults. In the case of obtaining an education during a pandemic, everyone must adapt and embrace the teaching platform.

Simply promoting a student because they were the unfortunate product of an education during a pandemic is not the answer. Each grade is a prerequisite for the next, including high school graduates facing college-level work or employment.

Instead of school systems worrying about data that reflects badly on graduation rates or academic progress, make sure students are better prepared for the next year, whatever that should bring.

Don’t let this pandemic rob students of an adequate education, even if means holding students back a grade. To do otherwise cheats the kids of a legitimate chance at long-term success.