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How do parents feel about their kids going back to school in the fall?

Regent Roger Tilles speaks to members of the

Regent Roger Tilles speaks to members of the New York state Board of Regents on Oct. 7, 2019 in Albany. Credit: Hans Pennink/Hans Pennink

Wednesday the state’s education Regents wrapped up their fourth and final task force addressing how schools will operate in the fall with a session focused on the downstate area, including Long Island. The conclusion, according to Long Island Regent Roger Tilles: Time, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, will tell. 

But the Regents, as they consider how to get the K-12 students educated next year, have at least been treated to a trove of information on what parents think, thanks to an in-depth study conducted by survey company Thoughtexchange that compiled input from 60,000 New York respondents to find areas of concern and commonality, along with preferences.

“The truth is, we are not in charge of whether kids go back to campus, or stay at home, or do a combination,” Tilles said. “That’s the governor’s call, and he’ll be listening to the Department of Health, I imagine. What we’ve been tasked with doing is devising plans for all three possibilities.”

But it isn’t really entirely up in the air, according to Tilles. 

“I don’t see how we could do it entirely on-campus 100% with social distancing,” Tilles said. “Think, just for one example, of buses. Districts would have to quadruple buses and drivers to keep kids separated properly. Where would that money come from?”

Tilles said that while the creation of alternatives continues, what he’s hearing from parents is that they want their kids back at the traditional in-person school. “I’d say 90% of who I’m hearing from are parents who say distance learning just isn’t the same, the kids need teachers for the learning and other students for socializing psychological health.”

But parents are worried, too, and the Thoughtexchange results bear that out. The company uses a system of compiling opinions in which participants react in an open-ended way to a prompt, in this case “What ideas and thoughts do you have as you think about a return to in-person schooling?”

Participants then also rate and respond to thoughts of other participants, creating a broad, in-depth response. 

The five important areas to participants were: 

  1. The importance of returning to in-person instruction, even if it is not full time
  2. The difficulty and necessity of schools following safety guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  3. Overall dissatisfaction with distance learning, including access problems and a lack of participation by students
  4. Calls for significant cleaning and disinfecting practices
  5. Concern about the need for socialization and students’ mental health

Nassau BOCES Superintendent Robert Dillon, who reported on the data for the Regents, told The Point Thursday: “What we saw in this incredibly rich collection of responses is that most parents want the kids back in school, on campus, and they want it to be safe, with schools cleaned regularly and items like hand sanitizer easily available.”

The other top issue? Funding. Respondents argued strongly that school funding did not need to be cut this year, as Cuomo has said may have to happen with state revenue cratering and federal help uncertain.

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