Not so very long ago, in communities across the southern United States, schools were not air-conditioned, and Labor Day marked the beginning of the fall term. Summertime was just that: June, July and August.


September didn’t exactly bring sweater weather to those sometimes sweltering classrooms, with their lazily circling ceiling fans. But at least football teams could practice and play without risking heat stroke.


Now an August back-to-school habit has become ingrained, and academic calendars are peppered with Monday holidays to which working parents must adapt. In ordinary eras, that may pass muster. But the current national- and state-level fiats about making our school buses run on time a month from now — when we are clearly unable to predict the extent of COVID-19 spread three days from now — show a lack of those critical thinking skills that public education is supposed to be teaching to our youngest citizens.


What we are teaching them instead, it seems, is not to expect the world of grown-ups to make any sense.


Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s broadside mandate that all school districts in Florida should prepare to open their classrooms for in-person lessons in August, even as Florida continues to post alarmingly high levels of fresh infections, should strike your average fourth-grader as a purely political disregard for public health and common sense.


We believe — as do many — that Corcoran overstepped the boundaries of his position as the appointed education chief for the state. Florida’s Constitution leaves much of the authority to operate schools in the hands of elected district officials, and most have already begun crafting their own plans for the coming school year. They don’t need a one-size-fits-all dictate from Tallahassee.


And the "out" detailed on Corcoran’s order — saying that districts can disregard his command if local health officials say it’s necessary — doesn’t reel him back onto firm ground. Unlike school districts, local health departments operate under the aegis of the state Department of Health — and the state has already been accused, with a fair degree of backup, of playing politics with COVID-19 statistics and dictating local responses. The real agenda here, unfortunately, is all too obvious.


Yes, a traditional back-to-school scenario would be ideal, if the current emergency were not so precarious. Families need their sustainable lives back; children who have not flourished in virtual learning situations must not be allowed to fall irredeemably behind. But none of this justifies pushing students and their teachers into crowded classrooms while a pandemic flares.


And even if all Floridians start masking up and social distancing today — somehow motivated to change their ways for the sake of schoolchildren when they would not do so for elders — the next four or five weeks are scarcely sufficient for the benefits of such a miracle to play out.


Our school boards should take the time they need to get this right. September will come soon enough.


Clarification


Thursday’s editorial mentioning the employees of Pop’s Sunset Grill in Nokomis should have specified that they lost work hours due to the pandemic. No implication about their health or the restaurant’s safety was intended.


The Herald-Tribune Editorial Board