Oklahoma schools were ordered to close buildings and move classes online for the rest of the semester in a tough decision made by the State Board of Education — but it’s the right call.

We thank the state board and Oklahoma Superintendent Joy Hofmeister for keeping public safety as the top priority in making tough decisions during this rapidly evolving situation.

Statewide school closures will help prevent community spread of the coronavirus by keeping students, educators and support staff at home. If just one person in the district carried it onto a campus or event, the virus could easily spread among the highly populated area and infect others in close contact.

The virus spread through particles and typically causes mild symptoms with most patients recovering within weeks — but it can lead to more severe illnesses, especially among elderly with preexisting health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Anyone who thinks they have COVID-19 symptoms should call their primary care provider, per state and federal guidelines. Test kits are limited and patients must pass a screening to qualify for testing. Test samples are collected locally and sent to a lab before the results are returned in a few days and reported by the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

The OSDH reported 164 cases and five deaths as of Wednesday and health officials expect the numbers to rise.

We remind everyone not to panic but to take precautions like the state board did by closing schools to limit contact.

But we realize that this precautionary move will also present more challenges.

School districts are planning and developing distance-based learning lessons, which they are required to release starting April 6. Districts will need time to develop programs and plan to reach all students, including those without internet access.

We applaud school leaders for working address these new challenges and provide students with opportunities to continue their education as they prepare for graduation to the next class, the workforce or college.

But we also encourage district leaders to consider how to recognize students for their work.

Students have worked toward completing their requirements and advance to the next level only to have that progress cut short.

It’s disheartening and unfair for those students and their families.

So we ask school leaders to celebrate those students in any meaningful way that you can. They deserve it.

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