Outside of the devastating and frustrating coronavirus pandemic itself, the debate over returning to in-person school is THE top of mind issue for anyone with children or grandchildren due to go back.

The Daily Item has done and will continue to do comprehensive coverage of the challenges being faced and the options being considered. Just about everything we’ve reported so far can be found on a special portion of our dailyitem.com website at dailyitem.com/schools.

One thing is certain. There is no single option that is appropriate for everyone.

Nationwide, including in Pennsylvania, some districts have already chosen to make the return all-virtual. The New York Times reported Thursday that among the nation’s 25 largest school districts, all but six have announced they will start remotely. 

While that makes sense from a public health perspective, it’s nearly impossible for working parents of children too young to be home alone and for parents in the still-too-many areas around here with spotty or no internet connection. 

The same goes for plans to have students alternate days of in-person attendance. 

The preferred option for many is allowing some version of in-person school while following the CDC mask-wearing and social-distancing guidelines as closely as possible.

I think that’s at least worth trying here at the start, considering the low-to-moderate COVID-19 case numbers we’ve experienced in the Valley. (On the other hand, I agree with Gov. Wolf on delaying sports until January. There’s just too much contact to play interscholastic sports safely.) 

Across the Valley, districts have been working hard to come up with the best of a bad set of options. On Thursday night, the Lewisburg Area School District approved a five-day in-person school week, with half a day on Wednesday. Parents have until Thursday, Aug. 13, to opt-out and choose a virtual option. 

Of course, going back to in-person school presents a wide range of real and potential issues. Take the case of an Indiana school, where an in-person student tested positive for COVID-19 on the first day, as an example.

“Administrators began an emergency protocol, isolating the student and ordering everyone who had come into close contact with the person, including other students, to quarantine for 14 days,” The New York Times reported.

That’s a nightmare all too likely to be repeated.

Still, in an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci cautiously supported the Trump administration’s push to reopen elementary and secondary schools — and in some cases, college campuses — this fall. He elaborated that sending kids back into classrooms depends on how bad the virus is in various places. 

One additional often missed perspective in this discussion is fairness. Nothing about this situation is fair.

People who can afford to stay home or can work from home obviously have more options than those who can’t. You can’t work from home and keep an eye on the kids if your job requires your physical presence. That’s true for health care workers, but also true for grocery store workers, department store employees, police, manufacturing and construction workers, etc.

Until there is a safe effective vaccine available to everyone, and unless we get over the idiotic anti-mask and social distancing responses, the return to school will be a mish-mosh of alternatives, none of them even close to perfect.

Email responses to dlyons@dailyitem.com.

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