CONCORD — Seventy percent of surveyed parents and guardians in the counties of Cheshire, Grafton and Sullivan said that they would likely send their children back to school in the fall, while 36% of those parents and guardians said they would feel safer if students wore masks, according to results of a statewide survey.
More than 4,000 parents and guardians from the three western New Hampshire counties participated in a statewide survey conducted in May to provide feedback to the School Transition, Reopening and Restructuring Task Force (STRRT) about reopening public schools amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. The task force will provide recommendations to the Gov. Chris Sununu and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut for a school reopening plan.
The task force also surveyed educators, school administrators and support staff, though so far the Department of Education has only published the parent summary on its website.
The summary organizes data according to the grade level of the participating parent’s child, the parent’s number of children and region of the state.
Most parents and guardians from the western New Hampshire region indicated their child’s academic and personal wellbeing are the biggest factors for their school decisions. Seventy-six percent of parents and guardians said they worry about the effects of social distancing on their children, and 80% said their children are eager to return to school.
In contrast, only 34% of parents and guardians said that they were concerned about not having access to childcare should schools remain closed, while 58% said they would need the ability to balance their personal responsibilities with their child’s school obligations.
However, parents and guardians were more divided on what level of school reopening they would prefer. Nearly half (48%) of the survey participants said their first preference would be for school to be fully on-site in their child’s main school facility location. But 26% of parents and guardians said a full return to school buildings was their least preferred option. Eighteen percent of parents and guardians most preferred a hybrid-model, in which students attended school on-site part-time in reduced class sizes and continued remote learning on alternating days. Fourteen percent of parents and guardians said they would most prefer continuing remote learning full-time, while 19% said they would prefer that schools provide all three options — on-site, remote and hybrid — and allow each individual family to choose a plan.
Interestingly, more than half of surveyed parents and guardians (52%) described their overall experience with their child’s remote instruction as “positive.” The same percentage of participants felt the amount of screen time during the instructional day was age-appropriate and 60% thought the academic expectations for their child were manageable and realistic. At least 75% of survey takers cited clear communication from their schools and district and an ease to contact school personnel when needed. Additionally, 53% of the parents and guardians said that the remote learning experience has made them more engaged in their child’s learning than prior to the pandemic.
But despite the positive experiences with remote learning, most parents and guardians say that the closure of schools has been difficult for their child’s social and emotional wellbeing. Fifty-one percent of parents and guardians said that their child’s stress and anxiety levels were higher during the remote learning period and 86% said their child misses opportunities for face-to-face interactions with their teachers.
Most parents and guardians indicate a lack of confidence that schools will be able to ensure social distancing requirements should students return. One in three surveyed parents and guardians believe their child’s school building has adequate space to provide the social distancing recommended by the federal Center for Disease Control & Prevention, and only 22% believe that students will be able to abide by the social distancing policies their school sets.
STRRT concluded its final meeting on June 29 and was expected to present its final recommendations to Sununu and Edelblut. Links to the task force’s meetings, which are available to watch on YouTube, can be found on the Department of Education website at https://www.education.nh.gov/who-we-are/commissioner/school-transition-reopening-redesign-taskforce.