ANN ARBOR, MI – One in three parents in several Midwestern states may not send their children back to school in the fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report from Michigan Medicine highlighting the nuanced measures parents and schools must make in the coming months.
The report, released Friday, June 26, surveyed nearly 1,200 parents of school-aged children in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois in June. It comes several days ahead of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s planned release of her “Return to School Roadmap” on June 30 that will guide districts on how to prepare for in-person learning this fall.
Michigan Medicine pediatrician and researcher Kao-Ping Chua, who led the research, said families are facing the difficult decision of whether to send their children back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“On the one hand, sending children to school could increase the risk of COVID-19 among children and family members,” Chua said in a statement. “On the other hand, children who don’t return to in-person school may experience disruptions in their education. Some families simply don’t have a choice because they need to go to work.”
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Many respondents supported decreasing the number of children on buses, creating a hybrid in-person, online class schedule, and staggering drop-off and pick-up times as ways to decrease risk at school. Support wavered for other measures, including closing playground structures and stopping extracurricular programs.
A majority of surveyed parents also said they supported face coverings for school staff, at 61%. Support for mask requirements decreased for children in lower grades.
Testing in various situations received broad support, according to the survey. About three in four respondents supported daily temperature screenings and testing classmates of a COVID-19 positive child. Two-thirds said they support weekly random COVID-19 testing of staff and about half supported the same process for children.
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Researchers found differences in responses by race, according to the report. Black, Hispanic and Asian respondents were less likely than white respondents to report plans to send all of their children to school. Fifty-five percent of Black respondents said they would likely send their children to school, compared to 72% of white respondents, 62% of Hispanic respondents and 46% of Asian respondents.
Differences in opinion also showed in results compared by household income. Sixty percent of respondents with an annual household income below $50,000 said they would likely send all their children to school in the fall, with 40% of those households saying they were still unsure of their plans for at least one child. Meanwhile, 66% of respondents with a household income between $50,000 and $100,000 and 76% of households over $100,000 said they would let their children return.
“The disparity by household income raises the possibility of potential educational disruption among less advantaged students,” Chua said. “Efforts should especially be made to understand and address barriers to school attendance for these students, and to ensure high-quality education for students who do not attend school in-person.”
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