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Some area parents weigh 'tough decision' about whether to send kids back to classroom or remain virtual

As many students head back into the classroom, some parents worry about how the delta variant could impact in-person learning.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Some students are already back in class and many more will head back to the classroom in the coming weeks.

Some families decided on a different option this school year, to remain virtual.

"It was kind of a difficult decision for me. I have a daughter who is getting ready to start kindergarten and I so desperately wanted her to have that in-person kindergarten experience," parent Kelly Fuentes said.

After months of going back and forth, Fuentes decided to have her daughter start virtual instruction next school year for health reasons.

"My daughter was diagnosed with cancer in early 2020, just before the pandemic started and she still in treatment. It was a tough decision because I really wanted her to have that in-person experience, but I worry about her getting this virus or any number of viruses so I decided to enroll her in the virtual Academy," Fuentes said.

As the same time, she wondered about her 8-year-old son who struggled with virtual learning.

"He would be zoned out looking at the screen and his lesson but I would see that his workbook was empty. There was no work he was doing, he was just there but not really present," said Fuentes.

Fuentes decided to send her son back to the classroom this fall. However, with the Delta variant raising concerns across the country, she wonders if she made the safest decision.

"I really wanted him to get back into that school experience, even though it was a scary decision to make, so I ended up deciding to send him back and I am second-guessing that decision now," said Fuentes.

"If you aren’t in that situation, maybe it’s OK to send your kids back but for us, there is not a clear answer," Fuentes said

“With a highschooler, it was easier because she is fully vaccinated. She turns 16 in June, and the day before her 16th birthday was the two weeks since her second vaccination. She really wants to be back in school but she also wants to be safe,” said parent Rebecca Mayo.

Mayo said both of her children stayed virtual last year. At the end of the school year, they debated enrolling in their virtual academy for this fall or returning to the school building.

She had to make a decision earlier in the summer when delta was not a big concern in our area so she decided to send her daughters back to school.

“Then virtual Academy closed and now Delta is here, Delta is not just here in Florida and Texas, Delta is here in Montgomery county injuring people right now and it’s also spreading to vaccinated people,” said Mayo.

Now she wants to know what safety measures are in place to keep her children safe while in the building.

"My real concern is for my nine-year-old who is unable to be vaccinated. What do they do with the kids who eat breakfast at school," said Mayo.

Each school has different options when it comes to virtual instruction.

In Montgomery County, virtual learning is open for students in Kindergarten through 12th grade. Students were required to apply and be approved for the limited program.

"For my son, it’s difficult because I really think he needs that in-person experience but I am terrified. This virus, just because we don’t know a lot about it yet, it’s extra scary for me," said Fuentes.

Other parents who spoke with WUSA9 echoed similar concerns.

With the pandemic once again bringing worry about in-person classes, school district leaders across the DMV said safety will be a top priority.

RELATED: What schools can learn from teachers and staff who have returned to in-person learning early

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When students return to the school building they will be required to wear a mask. There is also a push by some parents are pushing Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to instate a vaccine mandate for staff. The school system said it's considering it.

A spokesperson for MCPS said they know at least 16,000 of their 24,000 staff members have been vaccinated and say potentially thousands more have gotten vaccinated on their own. That's at least two-thirds of staff who are vaccinated.

The school system said they haven't decided yet if they'll institute a vaccine mandate. A spokesperson shared the following statement:

"We are reviewing what the county executive has proposed for county employees at this time and having discussions about potential next steps for the school system. We certainly understand the concerns in the community and are committed to having systems in place to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff."

RELATED: Stafford County students welcome kids back to classroom

RELATED: Petition calls for virtual option in Fairfax schools pointing to Delta variant concern

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Braband told WUSA9 he's excited to return to in-person learning. 

"Virtual has a place. It's going to continue to have a place in American education, but it's never going to replace face to face interaction with the teacher. That's still the premium way to get an education. Especially for our youngest kids," said Dr. Scott Braband.

Fuentes said she's thankful to all the teachers who continue to work hard despite continued uncertainty.

"Thank you to the teachers and all the teachers who just went above and beyond. This has been a tough, tough year and a half and it looks like this is continuing," Fuentes said.

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