School superintendents must long for the mornings when they’re pressed with the tough call of whether to cancel school for 4 inches of snow. The choice they face now — unfairly placed upon them and local school committees, it would seem — is far more convoluted with far more at stake.

To this point, state officials appear to be allowing school districts to chart their own course in deciding whether students will return to class this fall, whether they’ll return on a limited basis, or whether all lessons will be offered virtually, as they were in the spring, as a precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

When the state has made every other command and control decision regarding what’s appropriate in this public health crisis — whether and where people must wear masks, how many people may shop inside Market Basket at the same time, or how many days people must quarantine after traveling out of state — why would they relegate this one to local officials?

Gov. Charlie Baker and Education Commission Jeff Riley should lead more decisively. Certainly, school officials have plenty of decisions to make about logistics. But the big question — will students get on buses to go to classes held inside schools buildings? — needs to be settled now.

Districts in Massachusetts faced a Friday deadline to give the state three draft plans — for bringing all students back to school; resuming the remote teaching forced by COVID-19 closures earlier this year; or some blend of the two.

Listening to school leaders, teachers and parents hash out those plans was agonizing, though certainly not nearly as agonizing as the actual work of stitching together all of the details. 

A more realistic question is whether to attempt a “hybrid” model, where students spend some time at school and some time learning at home. Or should schools just pick up where they left off in June, refining the remote learning that left much to be desired, with perhaps the most needy of students allowed to return to a physical building?

School leaders, teachers and parents have spent plenty of time thinking and planning, with plenty still to come. All of us would now benefit from some decisiveness and clarity from the top.

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