Parents' demands for safe school reopenings
When the National Parents Union (NPU) met for the first time in New Orleans in January, things were just a little different. We knew we had a fight on our hands, but we never imagined what the next few months would bring. Instead of just being parents and advocates, as if that’s not enough, we are now superintendents, principals, teachers, hall monitors, IT professionals, cafeteria aides, school security, architects (turning living rooms into classrooms), and of course, we’re still parents and advocates.
As the debate in this country is shifting to how and when to reopen schools, it is more important than ever that parents have a legitimate voice that is heard, that is accounted for, and that is impactful. We simply can’t expect that the status quo warriors are going to have our best interests at heart. They never have before, and they certainly won’t now when their stranglehold on the education system is at risk. If there is a silver lining during the pandemic, it’s that parents have far greater insight into their children’s education—information that can be used to force change.
At the National Parents Union, of which I’m the president, our goal is to make parents voices heard. To do that, we are always seeking input from our coalition of families and from the larger public. That’s why we began a weekly COVID-19 survey to learn how parents feel about a variety of issues around education, financial support, and health. These surveys are also helping us develop our “ Family Bill of Rights .”
The poll, conducted by Echelon Insights on behalf of NPU, surveyed a nationally representative group of 500 parents of public-school students in grades K–12, from an online web panel on May 11–12, 2020.
Here are a few key insights from the poll.
To begin, we learned just how few parents trust elected officials to establish and evaluate school safety procedures. Just 5 percent said they would trust President Trump the most, whereas 24 percent said the CDC, 14 percent said state health officials, and 12 percent said local health officials. Also ranking low were governors, at 9 percent. School leaders didn’t fare well either: Local school district leaders were trusted by 8 percent of parents, state departments of education by 5 percent, the U.S. Department of Education by 3 percent, and the school principal of parents’ own children by 2 percent.
We also learned from parents how important certain measures are for schools to take:
Require students and staff members who may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 to stay home for fourteen days before returning to school: 81 percent of parents said this was extremely or very important, and 56 percent said it was absolutely necessary, and that if it it’s not implemented, they will not send their kids to school.
Send out notices to parents of students who may have been exposed to a student or staff member who has tested positive for COVID-19: 79 percent rated it extremely or very important.
Provide all students with the technology needed for online learning at the beginning of the year in case they become ill or schools close again, including laptops or tablets and internet access: 76 percent rated extremely or very important.
Provide face masks to all students and staff and replace the masks regularly: 70 percent rated it extremely or very important.
Provide an individualized education plan for each student based on an assessment of their academic and mental health needs, as well as input from their parents or guardians: 65 percent rated it extremely or very important.
Provide mental and emotional health assessments and counseling for students and staff: 65 percent extremely or very important.
Stagger schedules so that there are fewer students in classrooms and desks can be spaced six feet apart: 63 percent extremely or very important.
The days of parents being left out of the conversation around their children’s future are over. We are at a critical junction in our nation’s history, and we are not going to let special interests decide whether our kids have access to a high-quality education in a safe environment. We will have a voice, and schools will have no other choice but to listen. Our children have a right to a high-quality education, and we will not rest until they get one.
Keri Rodrigues is the President of the National Parents Union and Founder/Mom-in-Chief of Massachusetts Parents United.
© 2018 The Thomas B. Fordham Institute