Ohio return-to-school survey shows masks for kids is a divisive issue

A mid-May survey aimed at Ohio K-12 school parents — but including some general public responses — showed an interesting split on re-starting normal school in the fall.

The Ohio Parent Teacher Association asked people whether they would send their kids back to school in the fall if the buildings reopened. About 60% of the 14,448 respondents said yes, 11% said no, and 29% said they were unsure.

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But when the question was tweaked to ask if parents would send their children back to school if they were required to wear a mask, only 32% said yes, with 40% saying no, and 28% unsure.

Ohio PTA President Ana Chapman said there was no way to account precisely for the split, as it was not a scientific survey, but she said responses to an open-ended question gave some idea.

“There are some people who are just opposed to wearing masks period,” Chapman said. “There’s also a huge concern over elementary school and the youngest children wearing masks all day, especially children with special needs. Some people said it would make young children touch their faces more if they had masks on, or that high school kids would be too cool to have masks on.”

Chapman said Ohio PTA did the survey because the Ohio Department of Education reached out, seeking parent feedback on the state’s preliminary Reset & Restart plan on fall schooling.

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ODE officials said they appreciated the PTA’s efforts and would take the feedback under advisement, particularly in areas where ODE “has decision-making authority.”

Chapman said anyone who follows the Ohio PTA Facebook page had access to the survey May 14-17, with many non-followers participating after the survey was shared on social media.

“There are so many unknowns,” Chapman said. “Parents want their kids to be back in school and they want normal life back, but there are just so many unknowns, and it’s definitely going to vary by school district.”

The state’s 12-page draft Reset & Restart Planning Guide urges schools to consider four key categories. They are health and safety, educational plans, social-emotional health concerns, and operational issues such as busing, food service and extracurriculars.

The health and safety section, in collaboration with the Ohio Department of Health, encourages distance learning where possible, but lays out a long list of “daily precautions” for schools welcoming students.

That includes physical distancing, use of face masks, frequent cleaning and sanitizing, and firm attendance policies related to coronavirus symptoms — with students and staff told to take their temperatures each day before school.

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Chapman said parents had many questions about how schools would handle social distancing in classrooms, hallways, buses, playgrounds and cafeterias. She said scheduling is a big concern, with parents asking about half days or alternating days.

“There are very legitimate concerns, especially for working parents, as child care scheduling is a big issue,” she said.

Chapman said Ohio PTA wouldn’t advocate for ODE to take a certain approach.

“We advocate for parents having a say when decisions are being made for children,” she said.

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