The challenges we all face in confronting the COVID-19 pandemic boil down, ultimately, to a single, solitary problem.


Without a firmly applied national policy, states, localities and individuals are forced to make their own way and reach their own conclusions. This is arguably a problem. Without a national mask mandate, for instance, a confusing patchwork of requirements has sprung up.


Without a national policy on types of business that can be open and closed, communities decide on their own, often with scant actual evidence.


When it comes to schools, the approaches have been varied as well. Some states have pushed all schools to reopen in-person instruction, consequences be damned. Others have moved toward remote learning. Others have left the call to individual districts.


Such is the case in Kansas, with individual school boards left to weigh the pros and cons.


Thus far, we have been heartened by the results. While the challenge is real, we see districts taking the matter seriously and thoughtfully. The absence of a blanket demand for in-person classes has helped, allowing schools to think through all the possible scenarios.


Different approaches have emerged, as one might expect. Some are delaying until after Labor Day, as Gov. Laura Kelly requested. Some are putting off the beginning of in-person classes.


All of them, we hope, are putting the needs of students and educators first.


The fluid environment of a global pandemic means that the best-laid plans may not survive. We have no idea how the virus will behave if in-person classes start again. Will elementary schools see different outcomes than middle or high schools? Will teachers be on their guard with students but take off the masks around one another and possibly pass the virus that way? Will parents decide to keep their children at home no matter what?


We have no idea. Anyone who tells you that the year will go a certain way is almost certainly speaking more out of hope — or fear — than solid knowledge.


That means that the same school boards we praise now for their mindfulness and careful consideration can’t stop. They will have to keep weighing the benefits and risks as the school year continues, and they will have to be willing to change course.


These are difficult and confusing times. The lack of a national strategy hasn’t helped. But thoughtful, science-based considerations at the local level will carry us through. They’ll have to.