Survey: Most N.H. Parents And Teachers Nervous About Safety Of Schools But Ready To Send Kids Back | New Hampshire Public Radio

Survey: Most N.H. Parents And Teachers Nervous About Safety Of Schools But Ready To Send Kids Back

Jul 21, 2020

Schools across New Hampshire, including the North Hampton Elementary School, are drawing up plans to resume instruction this fall.
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR

A majority of New Hampshire parents are concerned about their children's health and safety if they return to school – and a strong majority of teachers are worried about their own health.

Yet most parents are also prepared to send their kids back to school next month, and most teachers are willing to return too.

That’s according to a sweeping survey of more than 54,000 school staff, parents and administrators released by the Department of Education Monday.

(These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.)

In all, 11,808 teachers and staff; 41,910 parents; 1,041 administrative officials and 1,234 student wellness providers were contacted, the department said.

In the survey, conducted between May and June, parents and teachers overwhelmingly expressed trepidation about returning to the classroom and concern with their school district’s ability to maintain safety.

Among parents of children in elementary school – kindergarten to 5th grade – 68% said they were “concerned about my child’s health and safety upon returning to school” – the highest of any age group. About 66% of middle school parents feel the same, along with 63% of high school parents.

But an even greater group of parents are clear on another point: Remote learning cannot go on much longer.

A full 81% of elementary school parents – and 78% of middle school parents– say they’re concerned about the effect that social distancing has had on their children.

And around 70% of each category of parents says they are “likely” to send their child to school when it reopens in the fall.

The data is not that recent; it was conducted for the School Transition Reopening and Redesign Taskforce before Gov. Chris Sununu released school re-opening guidelines last week.

But it provides the clearest snapshot yet of how families and educators have been dealing with a pandemic that’s pushed the limits of technology and stamina – and how they feel about a return to normalcy.

The members of the task force used the survey results to produce a two-page report of recommendations, according to a spokesman for the Department of Education.  

Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said the responses have helped the state’s re-opening guidelines released July 14, a largely voluntary blueprint for schools as they prepare to reopen.

By and large, the predicament for parents and their children has been tough. Large majorities of kids miss extracurricular activities like sports and clubs, according to the survey.    

Meanwhile, parents are getting by, but not by much. Only 52% of elementary school parents said they could balance their own lives with their children’s school obligations, versus 32% who disagreed.

At the high school level, three-quarters of parents said they could balance both work and school.

But there were some bright spots. Parents generally say they have faith in their school districts, with between 61% and 68% saying they felt their kids’ well being were “prioritized by district and school leaders” during the period of remote learning.

By slim majorities, parents found that the amount of screen time for their children had been “age- and grade-appropriate.”

Parents were largely not concerned about privacy issues that went along with the use of some of the social distancing video apps, such as Zoom and Google Classroom, according to the survey.

Teachers have their own calculus, meanwhile, the survey showed. An even higher number of teachers than families –  between 76% and 80%, depending on the grade level – say they plan to return to school when it reopens. Five to 8% said they disagreed that they were “likely to return.”

But high percentages of teaching staff are also concerned about their own health and safety if they return – between 73% and 76%.

Among the teachers and parents who responded to the survey, neither group appeared to overwhelmingly see masks as a panacea. Of high school teachers, 53% said they would feel safer if students wore masks, but only 40% of elementary school teachers said the same.

Parents were way less attuned; 36% of parents of elementary school kids thought masks would make them feel safer, compared to a high of 44% for parents of high schoolers.

The data, produced by the department and published on its website, was broken down into a number of categories, including geography.

Parents and teachers in the North Country, for instance, generally put less emphasis on mask use than those in Manchester and Concord. The same held true for concerns about health and safety and willingness to return.

One group is unequivocal about the change: the students. In total, 83% of elementary school parents, 78% of middle school parents and 79% of high school parents say their children are “eager to return to school.”

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.