(CNN)One of the questions I am getting more than any other: Am I going to send my children back to school? As a father of three teen and preteen girls, this has been a constant discussion in our household, and it hasn’t been easy. My girls want to go back to school, and they are placing enormous pressure on us parents to make it so. They miss their friends, the social structure and the immersion in humanity that kids need and crave at this age. Virtual learning has played an important role for them, but it is not a substitute for in-person learning, especially for younger kids. As things stand now, my children are scheduled to start school next week.
Many schools around the country have already made the decision for the students. At least 63 of the 101 largest school districts in the country decided to start the year with virtual learning. There are other school districts that have decided to go in-person, though many with virtual options. My own kids’ school left the choice up to the individual families, and while it’s difficult, I’m grateful we have options. Families all over the country are struggling with access to childcare, technology and even food — all of which can make a physical return to school a necessity.
Knowing my family would have to make a decision about school, we started doing our homework a few weeks ago, looking at the data and existing criteria, to come up with the best science-based choice for us.
For starters, I visited my kids’ school and spent time with the head of the school to best understand the safety precautions they were putting in place. They are very much in line with recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There will be a mask mandate, plenty of hand hygiene stations, physical distancing plans, frequent disinfecting of surfaces and even outdoor classes when possible. Students will eat lunch in the classroom, and there won’t be any mass gatherings or assemblies. While physical distancing is the toughest challenge, the school has made creative use of space in libraries, gymnasiums and cafeterias to obtain the necessary square footage to try and address this. It has been a herculean effort over the past few months, but of course, none of this works if the students themselves aren’t diligent about following these practices on buses, in hallways and in classrooms.