NORTH CAROLINA — Nearly half of readers believe it's too soon for North Carolina schools to reopen for the new academic year amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to an informal Patch survey.
The survey, which was recently taken by 317 respondents, is not meant to be a scientific survey but rather an informal way to gauge public opinion.
We conducted the survey as school districts throughout North Carolina continue preparation of reopening plans for the 2020-2021 academic year. Last month, state public health officials unveiled new guidance for schools, outlining possible scenarios for how classes could resume in the upcoming academic school year. Under the new interim guidance released by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, K-12 public schools are preparing for three possible scenarios: resuming with minimum social distancing, resuming with moderate social distancing or resuming with remote learning only.
If in-person learning is part of the reopening plan, schools will look vastly different from past school years. Because of CDC and state guidelines such as physical distancing, school districts may have to plan for measures such as rotating days for in-person classes, spacing in classrooms and buses.
In our survey, 46.7 percent of respondents believe it's too soon for schools to safely reopen in the fall while 40.4 percent said "yes, they can." Nearly 13 percent of respondents said they weren't sure.
Preferences for different reopening scenarios are mixed. The highest share — 37.5 percent — believe schools should begin the school year with a continuation of remote learning at first. Meanwhile, 29.7 percent support a hybrid model of remote and in-class learning, while 27.8 percent say that students should return to in-class learning with social distancing and mask wearing. About 5 percent said they were undecided.
Respondents had stronger opinions when it came to children wearing face masks in school settings. In all, 48.3 percent do not believe it is realistic to have children wear face masks in a school setting. By comparison, 27.8 percent want to see all children wear face masks and 21.1 percent believe it is realistic for only older children. The remaining 2.8 percent said "not sure."
When it comes to the choice of sending children back to school or keeping them at home, respondents were nearly split down the middle. Nearly 41 percent of parents with school-age children who took the survey said that they believed schools would be safe enough by next month, while 38.5 percent said "No, I will keep them home until I'm confident it's safe." Nearly 21 percent, however, said they remained undecided.
We received more than 60 additional comments on families' sentiments. A common thread was a concern about growing community spread of coronavirus undermining the peace of mind when the school year begins.
"The fact that many families do not take this pandemic seriously nor follow recommended guidelines, makes me very nervous to have my children attend school in person with them," said one respondent. "I recognize that it is a very difficult situation, but I am hopeful that strategies such as half of the students attending Monday/Tuesday, and the other half Thursday/Friday, can make at least part-time attendance manageable with safety protocols in place."
"We will be homeschooling with or without the help of [Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools]" one reader said. "Meck county is out of control, until ALL of NC take COVID-19 seriously this state will not recover we will only continue to go backwards."
Another reader wrote, "I prefer to keep my child home until the virus cases either come down dramatically or a vaccine is in place to combat it."
Other readers feel some of the options under consideration for mitigating risks while in the classroom are too unrealistic for children.
Said one reader, "Mask-wearing for kids during the whole school day will be torture for them."
"I think it's totally unrealistic to expect young children to stay at a safe distance the entire school day," said another respondent. "It's equally unrealistic to expect young children to keep their masks on or to avoid touching their faces or wash their hands thoroughly and often. These children go home to family members who may be high risk. We're also putting our teachers and staff at risk. Until there's a vaccine or the numbers go way down, I would not send my child to school."
For some readers, the benefits of school outweigh the risks. "Kids need school and a natural environment," one reader said. "The risk of illness is far less than the risk of socialization and skill building in school."
"My children need to see their teachers and friends," said one parent.
"I want my kids back in school, NO masks required," said another parent. "If anyone wants their kid to wear it, they can. If a teacher wants to wear it, they can but it should be the mask that is clear plastic so kids can see their teachers facial expressions. Kids should not go 6 hours without seeing adults smile at them."
Emily Leayman, Patch Staff, contributed