Pottsgrove Survey Respondents Favor Returning to School Buildings

Whether on a full- or part-time basis, those answering survey questions prefer sending their children back into schools … but safely

LOWER POTTSGROVE PA – A majority of parents responding to a Pottsgrove School District survey conducted during the first four weeks of June (2020) say they favor sending their children back into district buildings when the academic year gets under way in late summer, on a full-time or part-time basis, even if no vaccine against the coronavirus is available.

But respondents seemed somewhat evenly split on whether they would allow their students to board a school bus to make the trip from and to home. Forty-five percent of those answering said they would trust relying on the busing system; 41 percent said they’d prefer to provide transport themselves.

Factors that would most influence parental decisions to return their students to Pottsgrove’s five schools, survey results indicate, focus primarily on the health of the students themselves and the health of other family members.

The survey was launched June 1 by district Superintendent Dr. William Shirk and his administration to learn parents’ opinions about physically re-opening the schools. Its results were released Wednesday (June 24) in a letter from Shirk widely delivered to what Pottsgrove calls its “district community.”

Whether the results can be helpful to administrators and members of the Board of School Directors, who collectively must decide how education will be offered on Aug. 31 (Monday) – the first scheduled day of school – is an open question. The 714 families whom Shirk said responded to the survey represent only 37 percent of the district’s 1,950 family total.

Of that 37 percent, two-thirds said they would send their students back to the hallways; the remaining third, the survey seems to show, would keep them home.

A hybrid model of part-time in-school, part-time remote access appears acceptable

The district might be able to satisfy both groups, somewhat. Shirk noted most parents who responded express greatest “support a return to school full-time” or, as a fall-back, a hybrid “part-time in-school and part-time remote learning scenario.”

Full-time remote is the least popular parental option for resuming lessons. A significant number of respondents were concerned it was “difficult to keep student(s) engaged” outside school (288 respondents); that remote learning presented its own associated “challenges” (268); and that a parent or guardian might be at work when students were learning from home (184).

If it must rely on distance education in part or full, survey responses show Pottsgrove appears prepared. Ninety-nine percent of respondents said they had internet service in their households; 93 percent reported it was of sufficient bandwidth; and 85 percent said they have at least one connected device available for each student.

Shirk credited “ongoing efforts across the district” as helping to ensure students can quickly and easily connect with their teachers.

What parents will make parents feel most comfortable?

Survey respondents said they want to feel confident about the district’s ability to keep their students healthy if they return to buildings in any model. The mitigation efforts they prefer include:

  • Frequent cleaning of buildings, 92 percent, 659 respondents;
  • Health checks for staff members, 76 percent (539);
  • Following Centers for Disease Control recommendations, 75 percent (534)
  • Maintain social distancing, 53 percent (377);
  • Limit movement of students, 44 percent (315); and
  • Masks for staff and students, 40 percent (288).

“All (are) pieces that will need to be fully addressed within the district’s safety plan,” Shirk wrote. “We will continue to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Centers for Disease Control, and other agencies to provide guidance for the re-opening of school,” he added.

What’s next, and when?

Just when a re-opening plan can be announced still depends on documentation and approvals. The district currently is completing the state’s required “Health & Safety Plan for both the re-opening of school and participation in interscholastic sports,” Shirk said. It’s a document he reports “will address the many scenarios that exist specific” to Pottsgrove.

Beyond that, according to the superintendent, Pottsgrove is “still waiting for updates from (the state) regarding the educational guidelines for the 2020-21 school year.” Once received, the district’s own plan “will then be approved” by the school board and consequently be submitted” to the Education Department.

“We will continue to update the community as our plans develop,” Shirk promised.

Photo by The Post Publications