Pandemic Parenting Poll: When should kids go back to school?

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As Arizona’s COVID-19 numbers top 150,000, fears are escalating about the prospect of children, teachers, administrators and staff returning to school classrooms and hallways in just three and a half weeks.

Results from Raising Arizona Kids magazine’s most recent Pandemic Parenting Poll indicate parents strongly favor waiting longer than Aug. 17, the “aspirational” date set by Gov. Doug Ducey on June. 29. Ducey has indicated he will provide additional clarification about reopening schools sometime this week.

A total of 400 parents responded to the Raising Arizona Kids poll as of 2 p.m. today. The poll was deployed with the magazine’s Tuesday afternoon email newsletter. As responses continue to come in, the following trends are holding:

  • 41% of participating parents prefer a second-semester start date for in-classroom education — meaning a delay to in-person learning until January 2021.
  • 26.5% think schools should not reopen for in-person instruction until after the first quarter, sometime in October.
  • 21.7% favor Gov. Doug Ducey’s “aspirational” start date of Monday, Aug. 17
  • 10.8% think we should wait until at least Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day.

A return to in-classroom education should not be pre-selected for a random day,” said Forbes Hendrix in an email follow-up to the poll. “Certain criteria set forth by doctors should be the driving factors. Criteria may be that numbers are down and leveled off for X weeks or ICU or regular hospital bed usage is below X% for Y weeks. Looking at families and teachers, there are far too many families where a child, parent, or other immediate family member or caregiver is in the high risk population to risk another uptick in cases. Even if kids remain relatively healthy, what happens if it spreads among teachers in a school? Another mass closure with no coherent plan for switching to online and making it more effective than in the spring?”

Classrooms should not open until “we are able to formulate a plan to follow the CDC guidelines and keep our children and school employees safe,” said Marilena Hughes, via email.

The “return to school should be based on data, not arbitrary dates,” said Taben Hale via email. “Schools should not reopen in areas where there is widespread transmission. The percent of tests coming back positive needs to be well below 5% with widespread testing. There needs to be ample capacity in hospitals.

Educators also are concerned about a premature return to school

Kathy Hoffman, Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, today issued a statement asking Gov. Ducey to include, “at a minimum, the following priorities” in plans to support school communities:

  • Use public health data to determine reopening dates. She said the state should be experiencing a downward trajectory of confirmed new cases of COVID-19, a decrease in positivity rates for COVID-19 testing and widespread availability of testing with timely results.
  • Full funding for distance learning to ensure comprehensive, high-quality teaching and learning opportunities and critical student services.

“Like all educators, I want students back in our classrooms because that’s the best place for learning and growing,” Hoffman said. “However we cannot ask schools to make decisions that will impact their teachers’ and students’ health and safety without first providing them with the necessary public health data and funding to make safe decisions.”

An Arizona Education Association survey of 7,651 educators conducted during the week of June 30 found eight in 10 respondents agree that schools should reopen only after public health experts determine it is safe to return and with adequate planning and equipment to protect school employees, students, and families from COVID-19.

The Arizona School Boards Association sent Governor Doug Ducey a letter urging a rigorous science- and data-based approach to school-reopening decisions. These criteria would include: 

  • A downward trajectory of documented cases of COVID-19 for at least 28 days. 
  • A decrease in percentage of positive COIVD-19 tests for at least 28 days while maintaining a flat or increasing test volume. 
  • Percent positive cases less than or equal to 15% for at least 14 days consecutive days.
  • A median time for obtaining test results less than or equal to three days.