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Michigan parents: School coronavirus measures great, but don’t stop sports

Michigan parents want stringent safety measures in place in Michigan schools if classrooms reopen amidst the coronavirus pandemic, including frequent testing and less-crowded school buses, according to a University of Michigan survey released Friday. 

Just don’t stop sports or rope off playground equipment, the parents say.

The survey, published by the Susan B. Meister Child Health Evaluation and Research Center (CHEAR) at U-M, found that one in eight parents prefers not to send their children back to school in the fall.

“On the one hand, sending children to school could increase the risk of COVID-19 among children and family members,” survey lead author Kao-Ping Chua, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatrician and researcher at Michigan Medicine, said in a news release. “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.”

Michigan’s public and private K-12 schools have been closed to in-person classroom instruction since mid-March in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, which as of Friday had sickened more than 62,000 Michigan residents and killed more than 5,800. School leaders are struggling to balance the need to return children to classrooms, with the cost and logistics of additional safety protocols.

The poll, conducted June 12-22, asked 1,193 parents of school-aged children in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio for their views on reopening schools in September, before a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed.  The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent overall, and 5 percent for the roughly 400 Michigan respondents.

The findings, which were similar among the three states, were released four days before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to release a school reopening plan developed by an advisory panel that included school officials and health officials. Whitmer has announced that public and private schools will reopen in the fall, but is waiting until June 30 to announce specific, minimum health protocols for schools. Schools are welcome to go above and beyond the minimum standards, Whitmer has said. 

If the U-M survey is an indication, the majority of parents prefer safety over normalcy in classrooms this fall:

  • Three-in-four parents want daily temperature screenings as students arrive at school.
  • 64 percent want fewer children on school buses to allow for social distancing.
  • 63 percent favor a mix of in-person and homebound instruction so that there are fewer students in school at the same time.
  • 59 percent support staggered arrival and departure times to limit the number of students gathered outside of school buildings.

More than half (55 percent) of Michigan parents in the survey prefer that adults wear face masks at school. Though there was less support for student face coverings – 48 percent favored face masks for students in 6th grade and above; 43 percent for 3rd to 5th-graders; 37 percent for 1st and 2nd-graders, and 32 percent for kindergartners.

The least popular safety precautions offered as options in the survey: closing playground equipment (30 percent support) and eliminating extracurricular activities such as sports and music (27 percent).

“Preferences for the number and types of measures vary among parents,” said U-M researcher Chua. “But they broadly agree with the notion that schools should take steps to keep children as safe as possible.”

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