Most Idaho parents believe closing schools in March was the right thing to do. But they’re planning to send kids back this fall — and if schools close down again, parents expect schools will be better prepared to facilitate distance learning.
A new survey by New-York based FDR Research suggests Idaho’s parents believe in-person attendance is the best way to educate students. The study was sponsored by Idaho Education News and funded by the J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. It was conducted between June 17 and July 14, 2020.
FDR researchers surveyed 600 Idaho parents in an ethnically, socioeconomically and geographically diverse sample, to ask their opinions on education in the era of COVID-19.
- 81 percent of parents plan to send their child back to school this fall.
- 68 percent of parents are confident that schools will minimize COVID-19 health risks for students. Parents in hard-hit southwest and south-central Idaho are less confident about this than parents in the northern and eastern part of the state.
- 71 percent said their children learned less at home this spring than they would have in school. Only 45 percent of parents nationwide felt this way in a similar survey conducted in May.
- Nearly nine in 10 parents agree with the statement: “If another school closure happens, I would expect the school to be a lot better prepared.”
Results indicate that Hispanic parents are more hesitant to send students back to school and low-income parents are more likely to believe their child has fallen behind academically since schools closed this spring.
Debbie Critchfield, president of the State Board of Education, says the survey results mirror what she’s been hearing from parents across Idaho.
School’s abrupt transition to distance learning in the spring didn’t give educators much time to work on lesson plans or instruction, she said: “We went into survival mode and did what we could to finish the year.”
If students have to work from home again this year, expectations are higher across the board.
“I think everyone will expect more if we have to shift to a totally online delivery. And by everyone, I mean teachers, too,” Critchfield said.
Parents support most safety measures — but not masks
As neighboring states impose requirements that children must wear masks in school, Idaho’s parents remain opposed to that idea.
Requiring all students and staff to wear face masks was the only one of nine health and safety measures that most parents do not overwhelmingly support.
Almost all parents support an emphasis on hand washing and allowing students the option to stay home from school with no penalties if they have symptoms of COVID-19.
About three fourths of parents support or strongly support temperature checks for students at school.
But only 21 percent of parents “strongly support” requiring everyone to wear face masks in schools. Twenty-six percent of parents “somewhat support” that idea.
The majority of parents are opposed.
Gov. Brad Little has been reluctant to order a statewide mask mandate, leaving those rules instead to local cities and counties. The State Board has also left this requirement up to individual districts, and trustees are all over the map.
The Caldwell School District in Canyon County — an area of substantial spread of the coronavirus — announced last week it will move to a blended learning model and require masks. The neighboring Middleton School District — only eight miles away and also in Canyon County — will make masks optional unless the county or city imposes a mask mandate.
A rural-urban divide
Parents in Idaho’s urban areas are more supportive of masks and school closures than rural parents, but less likely to be satisfied with the results of learning from home.
- More than half of all rural parents said it was an “overreaction” for the State Board to close schools this spring, compared with about a third of parents in urban areas.
- Only 20 percent of urban parents think schools did a “great job” during spring shutdowns, compared to 45 percent of rural parents.
- Urban parents are three times more likely to support mandatory masks than rural parents. Only 8 percent of rural parents support requiring masks in school, compared to 24 percent of urban parents.
The future of Idaho’s schools
Most parents in the United States want schools to rethink education in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
In Idaho, parents are split down the middle.
A May survey by Echelon Insights, a Virginia-based data collection group, found 61 percent of parents across America said schools should be “coming up with new ways to teach children moving forward as a result of COVID-19.”
When that same question was posed to Idaho parents, only 46 percent agreed. Fifty-one percent said “schools should be focused on getting back to the way things were before the COVID-19 crisis, as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Again, answers to this question vary geographically. Almost 70 percent of rural parents believe schools should be focused on getting back to pre-COVID education, compared to 47 percent of urban and 55 percent of suburban parents.
“Unfortunately, education reopening and how to deliver learning has become a political discussion which further complicates an already complicated environment,” Critchfield said. “We all share the same goals, protect students and staff and teach our kids. That’s the focus of districts right now.”
Click here to see the complete survey results.