JEFFERSON — When the first survey of Jefferson families came out in June to gauge opinions about back-to-school planning in the time of the coronavirus, respondents came down strongly against wearing masks.
A second survey conducted a month later shows some shift in opinion as more information has come out on what it would take to hold in-person classes this fall, with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging.
Opinions on other aspects of pandemic schooling — such as whether the district should host in-person classes or slate all-virtual programming — have also shifted somewhat.
The results of the most recent survey were compiled July 21 and shared with the school board on Monday.
As of the second survey, the number of parents preferring in-person school had dropped to 70.2 percent, with just under 25 percent asserting that Jefferson should start the school year with virtual classes until the situation is more stable.
Around 5 percent sought a third, unspecified option.
In the prior survey, 95 percent of Jefferson families responding to the survey said they were comfortable sending their children back to the school buildings in the fall, though some added the caveat that it depended on what happened with the pandemic.
Asked in the July survey if their own children would be attending school in-person if that option were available, a large majority of respondents still chose in-person attendance — but less than before.
This month, 79.3 percent said they’d have their children attend in-person classes if they were available, with a much smaller but still significant 19.2 percent saying they’d opt for synchronous virtual schooling.
A small slice of respondents, around 2 percent, said they’d be switching their students out of the Jefferson school district, whether to attend another school or to homeschool.
The next question on the survey addressed transportation, noting that the district had concerns about physical distancing on buses and that it was asking families to transport their own children to school if possible.
Some 42.8 percent of respondents said that their children were not eligible for bus transportation. Another 24 percent said they were eligible to ride the buses but would provide their own transportation to school, while 11.6 percent said they’d only need the buses at times.
Some 13.3 percent said they would be relying on regular bus transportation, while the final group, representing 8 percent of respondents, said they would not be needing transportation as they would not be sending their children to school until conditions were safer.
Asked about the proposed requirement for face coverings at school, most respondents (81.8 percent) said their opinions had not changed, but 18.2 percent said they had shifted their opinion due to new information and changing circumstances.
Previously, 90 percent of parents had said they did not favor face coverings for students.
Asked in July about the requirement for face coverings — a measure promoted by every level of government to lessen the spread of COVID-19 — the largest group of respondents (39.5 percent) came down in favor of everyone wearing masks.
Another large group, 33.8 percent of respondents did not favor any mask requirements for students.
Some 12.5 percent of respondents felt requiring face coverings for students in sixth-grade and up should be adequate.
A smaller group, representing 9.6 percent of respondents, felt face coverings should be required for all students in third-grade and up, and a still smaller group, representing around 5 percent of respondents, felt masks should be required only at the high school level.
The final question asked respondents whether they’d allow their children to participate in extra- or co-curricular activities in the fall, such as sports.
Almost 58 percent of respondents said yes to this question, while 12.3 percent said no and upwards of 30 percent said they remained unsure.
Like the June survey, which generated 40-some pages of commentary — most vehemently anti-mask — the July survey also generated plenty of comments.
However, the comments showed a greater diversity of opinion than in the previous survey.
In the previous survey, many of the respondents had asserted that masks were unhealthy, an opinion that fewer respondents appeared to hold this time around.
Still, many parents still objected to the proposed requirement for various reasons.
“If you don’t even have the sickness the masks will cause redness and it causing a distraction,” one comment read.
One respondent thought masks would be ineffective for the opposite reason, saying, “If you have to require face masks for everyone, it’s pretty clear that the pandemic remains uncontrolled — why would you risk not only the children’s health, but all teachers and other staff?”
“If the vast majority wants in-person and no masks, making masks a requirement makes me feel like only the small percentage is being accommodated,” another respondent wrote. “Could we have all staff and families sign a waiver that states the school district will not be held responsible if a student or staff member test positive for COVID and any related health issues that may come from getting the virus?”
One person expressed the opinion that masks would be ineffective if they were not changed hourly, saying “the combination factor and buildup of moisture combined with germs is more dangerous to their health than COVID-19.” (However, this does not appear to be a concern shared by medical facilities treating patients with COVID-19.)
Another respondent said that masks would be ineffective because “I don’t believe they’re worn correctly by 90 percent of the public.”
Another respondent asserted that the key to preventing anything from the flu to “the virus” was sanitation of surfaces and frequent hand-washing.
This also reflects medical advice from early in the pandemic, but subsequent studies have shown COVID-19 is not spread easily on surfaces, but rather is most transmissible in the air, and in fact can hang in indoor spaces for hours.
One respondent asserted that having everyone wear masks “creates a negative atmosphere and school should not be scary or negative.”
Many parents backed the idea of optional masks for “those who feel threatened.” However, this is problematic, as cloth or surgical masks offer only around 30 percent of protection for the wearer, although they offer almost 100 percent protection for those around the wearer.
Several respondents favored masks if that’s what it took to do in-person instruction.
While the comment section of the survey was intended mainly for debate on the mask issue, a few parents used that space to weigh in on other concerns.
“I have concerns with our educators having to provide both in-person and online instruction,” one parent wrote. “I am concerned that this may be an unrealistic and unfair expectation.”
One parent, who has a child with diabetes, said that masks or no masks, they were not sure whether it was safe to be sending their child back to in-person school at this time, and they were holding off on making a decision until they could confer with their pediatrician.