by Kenny Retzl, Ph.D., Don Soifer, and Jeanine Collins
Nevada school districts, like districts across the nation, are creating school reopening plans for the fall. However, these plans make two (often unrecognized) assumptions. The first assumption is that teachers and school-based staff will be comfortable returning to the schools given the current COVID-19 public health crisis. The second assumption is that these groups of professionals will agree on the measures required to realize a safe reopening. To explore these assumptions, the Guinn Center, Nevada Action for School Options, and Nevada Succeeds partnered to administer an independent survey to school-based licensed and support staff, as well as school administrators.
The purpose of the survey is to understand the comfort level of these professionals in returning to classrooms given the current preparation underway by districts. The survey also asks respondents to consider the importance of specific actions schools and districts could enact to attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The survey, which was administered between June 15th to June 24th, was anonymous and included 11 questions. Overall, we received 9,220 responses statewide, which included 7,163 licensed educators, 1,757 support staff, and 300 school administrators. While this summary represents initial discoveries, a more complete report with additional findings will be forthcoming.
Comfortability Returning to Schools The survey included two questions about the respondents’ comfort levels returning to their school and/or classroom. The first question asked individuals to provide their comfort level given the current school/district policies, while the second asked about their comfort level given all the public health precautions they felt necessary to adopt (except the availability of a vaccine).
As displayed in the figure below, approximately the same percentage of school employees felt uncomfortable returning to schools given the current policies as those that were comfortable or expressed neutral feelings (49 percent to 51 percent, respectively). If additional precautions are taken, a larger percentage of employees would be comfortable returning to school in the fall, but a sizable group of employees — 31 percent of the respondents — will remain uncomfortable returning to school in the fall. This challenges one of the assumptions of school-reopenings during the pandemic — that all school employees will be comfortable returning to schools in the fall.
Student-Centered Focus of Respondents The survey also offered respondents the opportunity to provide comments regarding the actions that the district and Nevada Department of Education could undertake to increase their confidence in reopening schools safely. Specifically, the open-ended question asked, “What actions — if taken by school leadership, districts, and/or the Nevada Department of Education — would increase your confidence that schools are ready to reopen in the fall?” Individuals provided opinions ranging from reopening schools without any changes necessary to moving to 100 percent virtual instruction until a vaccine is available. However, despite the differing opinions provided, students and learning were the primary foci of respondents’ concerns – as evidenced by the word cloud below that was created with the open-ended responses from this survey question.
Even though school building professionals may have different ideas about the best set of actions or strategies district and state leaders should pursue to enhance safety, the ideas are informed largely by concern for the students, both their safety and learning environment.
Options for Reopening The survey asked respondents how strongly they agreed or disagreed with various actions schools and districts could undertake as a reaction to COVID-19. These results are presented in the Appendix. Respondent groups held similar views on the importance of various actions — with the percentage of respondents agreeing with the statements in remarkably similar patterns. However, interesting differences did emerge (challenging the second assumption that differing groups of professionals will agree on the best course to reopen schools). Significant findings included:
- Overall, licensed educators, support staff, and school administrators provided remarkably positive responses to nearly all proposed actions the district could take to support schools to combat COVID-19 related issues.
- While respondents note they want more disinfecting supplies in the classrooms, actions that engage families in the process of keeping the students, teachers, and the school safe also elicited high levels of support.
- Licensed and support staff more strongly support mandatory temperature checks for everyone entering the school building than school administrators.
- Licensed and support staff more strongly support more flexible sick leave policies for all school-based personnel than school administrators.
The full, statewide report and analysis will be published in early July.
Kenny Retzl, Ph.D. is Director of Education Policy, Guinn Center. Don Soifer is Executive Director, Nevada Action for School Options. Jeanine Collins is Executive Director, Nevada Succeeds.
Appendix – Options for Reopening Responses by Respondent Category