ALLENTOWN (TNS) — My wife and I had a discussion last week that I suspect many families are having.

Should we pull our son from in-person classes because COVID-19 cases are spiking in Pennsylvania? What criteria would we use to decide?

We live in Berks County, one of about three dozen counties where health officials say there is substantial community spread of the virus.

Lehigh and Northampton have substantial spread, too. The state Health and Education departments recommend only remote instruction under those circumstances.

Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Thursday it is up to school districts to decide whether to follow that recommendation. She previously has said the state does not intend to order schools to shut down in-person classes.

That’s the way it should be. Each district should make that decision, based on its capabilities to protect students and staff and based on input from its residents.

Most school districts that have in-person classes aren’t shutting their doors, despite the rising numbers and the state’s recommendation. That leaves it up to parents to decide whether to stick with it.

We are.

We made that decision after considering the data, but mostly based on our parental instincts and beliefs.

Our son follows a hybrid model, attending four of every 10 days in-person and the rest virtually. We believe that is a good balance between his mental health and his safety. And he’s comfortable with it, aside from the grumbling about having to get up 30 minutes earlier on in-person days to catch the bus.

The hybrid model is our choice. It isn’t being imposed on us. He could attend virtually full time.

But if he didn’t go to school on those four days, he wouldn’t get out of the house often and rarely would see his friends because we are limiting contact with others. He plays video games online with his friends every day, but that’s not the same.

There haven’t been any confirmed cases among staff or students at his high school, which is admirable. And there have been only a handful of cases at other schools in the district. When there was a string of three infections among staff members at the middle school, the district shut the school down for a week.

So we’re confident that our district is taking the situation seriously.

The low numbers in the school system also indicate that most families in our community are taking the situation seriously, too. If they weren’t, I would expect that would be reflected in higher case numbers among staff and students.

Since the pandemic began, there have been 208 cases in our zip code, which isn’t overwhelming over eight months.

Pretty soon we’re going to have to make another decision — whether our son should compete on the high school swim team. He wants to, and we want him to. So if the season occurs as scheduled, he will.

This is a difficult decision. As a parent, your number one priority is to keep your children safe. If you believe going to school is unsafe, then you should go virtual. And you shouldn’t be criticized for it.

Some families have members who are at risk because of underlying health conditions. They may not want to gamble that a student could bring home the virus.

While we are continuing with in-person instruction, that doesn’t mean we’re not worried.

The 5,488 coronavirus cases confirmed in Pennsylvania on Thursday were a record. It was the first time the state has exceeded 5,000. The state hadn’t exceeded 4,000 until the weekend before, and the fact that we blew by that was disturbing.

Researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have called for that area’s schools to go remote. The state teachers union has urged other districts to do so, too.

We’re trying to balance safety with the need to learn, which we believe occurs best in-person.

Our other son was moving back home from college this past weekend because in-person classes, dining and extracurricular activities were shut down because of an increase in cases among students.

He could have stayed on campus, but there was no point in him sitting alone in a dorm room, eating takeout and being glued to his computer. He can do that from home, where he will be more comfortable and surrounded by family.

He was supposed to come home this week anyway and finish the semester remotely, so it’s not a huge change in plans.

The bigger concern is whether he will be able to return in January. Or, if he should return if the campus reopens and the pandemic has worsened.

That’s another discussion that we, and I suspect many other families, will have.

(Paul Muschick is a columnist for the Morning Call of Allentown.)

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