GEORGIA — More than half of readers believe schools will not be prepared to reopen for the new academic year amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to an informal Patch survey.
The survey, conducted from Tuesday to Monday, received 3,817 responses. It is not meant to be a scientific survey, but rather an informal way to gauge public opinion.
We conducted the survey as school districts either announced or are preparing reopening plans for the 2020-2021 academic year. The Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Department of Public Health released June 1 back-to-school guidelines, providing guidance to help schools plan for a safe return to in-person instruction this fall. Among them are masks, frequent hand-washing and eating at desks.
If in-person learning is part of the reopening plan, schools will look vastly different from past school years. Because of Centers for Disease Control 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, 58.6 percent of respondents believe schools cannot safely reopen in the fall while 29.8 percent said "yes" and 11.7 percent said "not sure."
Preferences for different reopening scenarios are mixed. The highest share — 45 percent — believe there should be a continuation of remote learning at first. Meanwhile, 29.2 percent believe schools should begin with a mixture of remote and in-class learning, and 21.7 percent support in-class learning with social distancing and mask-wearing. The remaining 4.1 percent were undecided.
Respondents were less divided on the place of face masks in school settings. In all, 54.4 percent do not believe it is realistic to have children wear face masks in a school setting. By comparison, 23.9 percent want to see all children wear face masks and 18.9 percent believe it is realistic for only older children. The remaining 2.7 percent said "not sure."
For those with school-age children, we wanted to measure how many parents plan to send their children back to class if schools do resume in-class learning in the fall.
In all, 35.6 percent said they will keep their children home until they are more confident it's safe, 26.8 percent said they will send their child to school, 19.9 percent said they were unsure, and the remaining 17.7 percent said they do not have school-age children.
Lastly, we asked all readers on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest, how great are their fears of sending their kids back to school.
Of the nearly 4,000 replies, 44.2 percent said they were at a level 5, with 14.8 percent ranking at a level 1.
We received over 660 additional comments on families' sentiments. A common thread was a concern about virtual learning's impact on learning and well-being, particularly among young students. Other parents were worried since both worked outside the home and did not have a choice in keeping their children home.
One reader wrote, “Having a combination of in-school and virtual learning would be the least desirable in my opinion. Those that cannot work from home will need to hire caregivers or find centers to care for their kids on virtual days... this will increase everyone’s bubble of exposure and increase risk.”
Another said, “If a common cold spreads like wildfire I can’t imagine this being any different, wearing a mask is uncomfortable for adults, imagine kids. It’s not being realistic, kids will not keep on their masks throughout the school day.”
An older female speech pathologist and cancer survivor, said, “I don’t feel safe returning to in-class learning. To work on articulation of sounds, you have to be able to see children’s mouths, which would be impossible wearing masks.”
Another educator commented that, “unless older students are required to wear a mask, I will be electing to online teach. It is too soon to be back in the classroom.”
Many readers suggested beginning school after Labor Day, which is typically weeks after many schools resume in Georgia. “Schools should consider opening after Labor Day. People that are not responsible will travel to GA because our beaches are open. Let the holidays pass and then reopen schools.”
One reader kept it simple by saying, “It is a must. Time to get kids back to school.”