Virtual or in-person school? Either way, parents are concerned.

As the new school year begins in some states, American parents are struggling to balance their workloads and children's educational needs. A surge in COVID-19 cases adds urgency as parents weigh the benefits of in-person learning against protecting their families.

Jeff Amy/AP
John Barrett and his daughter Autumn pose for photos outside Bascomb Elementary School in Woodstock, Georgia, July 23, 2020. Mr. Barrett plans to educate his daughter virtually, despite worrying she'll fall behind on her special education curriculum.

Shannon Dunn has to report to her job this week as a cafeteria manager at an elementary school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but she has no idea what she will do when her daughter starts kindergarten with online-only instruction.

With a new school year beginning this week in some states, Ms. Dunn, like many other working parents, is struggling to balance her job with her child’s schoolwork as the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause upheaval around the country. The death toll in the United States has reached about 155,000, and cases are rising in numerous states.

Ms. Dunn’s East Baton Rouge district has asked employees to begin work this week, while students are set to begin virtual classes next week. School officials have said they hope to begin in-person classes after Labor Day.

“My family works. I have no one I can take her to and say, `OK, at 12 o’clock you are going to have to start working online with her for school,’” Ms. Dunn said.

Parents in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee are among those who will be the first to navigate the new academic year as schools open up in parts of those states this week.

In Indiana, where schools reopened last week for the first time since a pandemic-driven nationwide shutdown in March, a student at Greenfield-Central Junior High School tested positive for the coronavirus on the first day back to class.

School Superintendent Harold Olin said the student was tested days earlier and attended class before receiving the results. The student was isolated in the school clinic, while school nurses worked to identify other youngsters or staff who may have had close contact with the student.

“This really does not change our plans,” Mr. Olin said. “We knew that we would have a positive case at some point in the fall. We simply did not think it would happen on Day One.”

Schools in Hawaii were supposed to reopen Tuesday, but the teachers union led a move to delay that until Aug 17.

Most schools in the state are planning a hybrid approach, with students alternating between in-person classes and online instruction. Some schools will have full in-person instruction for lower grade levels, but only a few schools will offer a full-time, in-person return.

Many school districts around the country had offered parents a choice of at least some in-person classes or remote instruction. But an uptick in COVID-19 cases in many states has prompted districts to scrap in-person classes at least for the start of the school year, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington.

Ms. Dunn said she hopes her daughter will be able to attend in-person classes at her school after Labor Day. But even if she does, that will not ease Ms. Dunn’s mind completely.

“I’m definitely going to worry,” she said. “I will send her to in-person classes, but if I hear of the spread of COVID at the school, then I’d have to rethink it all over again.”

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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