A majority of Minnesota parents who responded to a survey from the state Department of Education say they are comfortable sending their children back to school this fall — though more than a third remain uncomfortable with or unsure about the idea of reopening schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The department’s informal online survey, which was open between June 15 and July 6, attracted more than 130,000 responses and was offered in English, Hmong, Spanish and Somali. It included questions on school reopening and on families’ experiences with distance learning this spring, after schools shut down.
Among the highlights: About 64% of parents surveyed said they’d feel comfortable sending their students into school buildings this fall, while 11% were uncomfortable and 24% said they were unsure.
The vast majority — more than 94% — said they’d prefer to have their students attend school full time if schools reopened.
Officials said they intend to use the results to help inform their decisions about what school will look like this fall. School districts have been directed to plan for three scenarios: a full distance-learning model, schools reopening without strict health and distancing measures, and a hybrid model that would combine strict capacity and distancing requirements with distance learning.
The state will announce its decision by the week of July 27.
Public health concerns were cited as the greatest concern for parents who said they wouldn’t want to send their children back to school, though nearly 43% of parents in that category said that either their students or another family member are considered medically fragile.
Most of the parents uncertain about schools reopening said they’d feel better about sending students back if schools cleaned surfaces and performed health checks daily and reduced class sizes. Many said they’d also feel more comfortable if new cases of the virus were in decline.
Of the survey respondents who self-identified their race, white parents were the most likely to say they’d send their children back to school, with 65% saying they’d feel comfortable.
Respondents from groups that have been disproportionately affected by the virus were among the least likely to feel comfortable with that prospect; just under half of Black and Latino parents said they’d be ready for schools to open, along with about 56% of American Indian parents. Asian parents were the least comfortable with returning to school; just 39% said they were ready to send their children back.
Meanwhile, a majority of parents said they had a negative experience with distance learning this spring. Among the top reasons for the negative reviews: students who did not feel empowered, mental health challenges and hard-to-understand lessons.
All told, nearly 53% of parents characterized this spring’s distance learning as “bad” or “very bad.” Another 45% said the experience was “good” or “very good,” while the remainder said there was no difference from traditional in-person instruction.
Asian and Latino parents who responded to the survey had a slightly more favorable review, with 53% of Asian parents and about half of Latino parents reporting that the learning experience had been positive. Black and white parents were more likely to have a negative view; in both groups, just over half of both groups said the experience was “bad” or “very bad.”
Parents reported that the most positive elements of distance learning were good access to the internet and required technology and good communication from teachers, though experiences varied depending on race.
While more than 70% of white and Asian parents said securing internet access for distance learning had gone well, just 62% of Black parents — and a smaller share of Latino and American Indian parents — said the same. White and Asian parents were also more likely to say they had a positive experience in terms of communication from teachers and schools, finding a spot for students to work, and ensuring students had adult support.
But slightly larger shares of Black, American Indian and Latino parents felt distance learning provided their children with more one-on-one attention, compared with white parents. Parents in those groups also were more likely than white parents to say their students felt empowered to learn, and that their mental and physical health had improved while out of school.
In a statement, Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker thanked parents for participating in the survey and teachers for adapting to new challenges throughout the year.
“As we plan for the upcoming school year, we will listen to the experiences of our families, teachers, and students and the advice of public health experts to determine a safe path forward,” she said.