School Climate & Safety

Principals Have Major Doubts About Keeping Students and Staff Safe When Schools Reopen

By Denisa R. Superville — July 08, 2020 3 min read
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With President Trump ramping up pressure on states and districts to return to normal school operations, many of the nation’s principals have deep misgivings that schools and districts can keep students and staff members safe when buildings reopen in the fall, according to a new poll of school leaders.

Twenty-nine percent of principals were “unsure” that they or their school district could keep students safe when schools reopen, according to a poll released Wednesday by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

And the remainder of the responders were nearly evenly split: 34.9 percent of school leaders said they were not confident they could keep students and staff safe and healthy while 35.2 percent felt confident they’d be able to do so, according to the poll.

Among those who responded to the poll, 15 percent said they were “not at all confident” that they could “preserve the health of staff and students” when buildings reopen this fall. Only 12.4 percent of respondents were “extremely confident,” while 22.8 percent were “somewhat confident.”

The poll comes as some districts are facing aggressive pushback from teachers and parents for their reopening proposals. Some critics have rejected proposed hybrid options that will keep students at home on some days and limit in face-to-face schooling, while, in some communities, parents are asking for a return to full in-person, five-days-a-week schooling.

And in recent days, President Trump has been pushing schools to reopen, saying on Twitter on Wednesday that he may withhold funds from schools that don’t reopen.

The survey of 1,450 school administrators was conducted Tuesday and Wednesday amid the calls from Trump and members of his administration to fully reopen schools.

“A principal’s primary and foundational duty is to keep students safe in school,” JoAnn Bartoletti, the CEO of the NASSP said in a press release. “Without that assurance, little real learning can take place. That only a third of principals feel confident they can provide that assurance under the current conditions should give us pause. They are being asked unreasonably to bridge a chasm between the realities of face-to-face learning and the need to safeguard the people in their school.”

Among the major difficulties principals cited was how to maintain the six-foot distance recommended by public health experts, according to NASSP. Many classrooms also do not have proper ventilation, and principals worry about how to ensure that younger students, especially, keep masks on during the day.

Principals are also concerned about their staff who may be immunocompromised or older and are at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. There’s also worry about how school leaders are going to pay for masks, additional safety measures, and the new cleaning regimen that will be expected in the fall.

Bartoletti also called for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education to create more concrete guidance for districts—as well as provide more financial resources to put them into effect.

New CDC guidelines are expected next week.

Photo: Teacher Sandrine Albiez, wearing a face mask, answers students’ question in a school in Strasbourg, France in May. (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

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