School Climate & Safety

Principals Favor Hybrid Schedules for Reopening Schools

By Denisa R. Superville — July 20, 2020 4 min read
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Half of elementary principals prefer to reopen schools this fall with a hybrid schedule—a blend of remote learning and in-person instruction, according to new survey released Monday.

In a poll of nearly 800 principals and assistant principals in all 50 states, only 17 percent of school leaders chose the all-remote option as the best model for the fall, while 26 percent said in-person schooling five days a week was the best model.

The findings—from a poll conducted earlier this month by the National Association of Elementary School Principals—comes amid tense debate about the best ways to reopen schools as coronavirus cases spike across the country, but especially in the South and the West.

The survey also showed that many principals are working in districts that have not yet decided on a reopening strategy. With start dates quickly approaching, 62 percent of principals said their districts had a reopening plan and only 35 percent said they had been consulted “a lot” in the process. Seventeen percent said they had not been consulted at all.

Read: Scheduling the COVID-19 School Year

The American Academy of Pediatrics has endorsed in-person classes in the fall, especially for younger children, and a new study from South Korea is showing that children under the age of 10 are less likely to transmit the virus than adults. That same study, however, found that young people between the ages of 10 and 19, are almost as likely as adults to spread the virus.

President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have been pressuring school districts to reopen as normal, even issuing threats to withhold federal funds to districts that do not. And some states have taken a similarly hardline approach, with Florida directing districts to provide in-person schooling five days a week when they reopen. On Monday, the Florida Education Association sued the state over the order.

Large districts, such as Los Angeles and San Diego in California, and Prince George’s County in Maryland, have said they will hold classes remotely in the fall.

Superintendents are weighing a host of uncertainty: the virus’s unknown path, a shortage of funds to buy masks and other protective equipment and to pay for other changes to keep students and staff safe, as well as deep reluctance and fear from teachers—many of whom are at a higher risk for getting sick or dying from COVID-19. And there’s the simple math: in many cases, districts just can’t fit all of their students into their buildings if they are to follow physical distancing guidelines and ensure that students remain six feet apart.

Amid all of that, principals—who will be tasked with making sure that district plans are followed and are communicated clearly with staff, students, and parents—are increasingly saying they’re unsure they’d be able to keep students and staff safe when schools reopen.

In the new NAESP poll, only 22 percent of the school leaders who responded said it was “very or somewhat likely” they’d be able to protect staff and students from the virus if schools reopen for in-person classes. And 40 percent said they were “very concerned” about their personal safety and their staff’s safety.

It’s not just elementary school leaders who are worried. Another poll released last week by the National Association of Secondary School Principals showed that middle and upper level principals were also not so sure they’d be able to keep those in their buildings safe and healthy.

In that poll, 29 percent of principals said they were “unsure” that they or the district would be able to keep students safe. The rest were nearly evenly divided, with 34.9 percent saying they were not confident they’d be able to keep students and staff safe and another 35.2 percent saying they felt confident they’d be able to do so, according to that poll.

Money Is a Big Concern

Among the hybrid reopening models, more than half of school leaders—53 percent—said they preferred a cohort model, a kind of rotation schedule where one group of students attend school on specific days and work remotely on the days when they are not in school. About 10 percent preferred split days, with some students attending in the morning and others in the afternoon.

Thirty-eight percent of those who responded said their district had enough money to pay for some of the changes necessary to make in-person schooling work—including for enhanced cleaning, protective equipment. Only 6 percent said their district had enough to hire more staff for the new safety protocols and 4 percent said there was enough money for more buses and bus drivers.

And 60 percent of school leaders said they had developed learning loss plans for students, while 90 percent said they’d need more money to make them work.

“These results affirm that school principals have real concerns about ensuring the safety of students and staff when schools reopen,” L. Earl Franks, the association’s executive director said in a statement.

“Principals will be implementing school reopening plans and they are making absolutely clear they need Congress to step up and deliver additional funding to provide the necessary cleaning protocols, protection equipment, and spacing inside school buildings to keep students and school staff safe. If Congress does not act, they will be hanging schools out to dry.”

Though school leaders from all regions of the country responded to the survey, the majority of school leaders—52 percent—worked in suburban school systems.

The survey was conducted from July 7-16 and got 798 responses.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.