In a recent survey of parents with children enrolled at the Grand County School District, more than 100 local parents said they would not send their kids to school if a mask mandate was in place. Currently, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has implemented a school-specific mask mandate statewide, and Grand County has its own order requiring masks on nearly everyone in public spaces.
Of the 446 responses the school district received starting June 25, 40% said they would not send their student to school if a mask mandate was in place, and many left comments opposing masks for teachers and kids despite guidance from health experts — locally, state-wide, federally and worldwide — that masks reduce the spread of the coronavirus, based on evidence from other countries and scientific studies of the virus.
District Superintendent Taryn Kay, however, is not concerned that droves of parents will pull their children from school over a requirement that their kids wear masks. Although one parent so far has unenrolled their child over the mask mandate, Kay said “I really don’t think that 40% of all people are not going to send their kid to school.”
Kay and the school district have taken a flexible tact, offering accommodations to students on a case-by-case basis if, for example, an autistic student is not able to wear a mask due to physical sensitivities, a medically at-risk student must do all-remote learning from home, and any other situation that might arise.
“Whatever challenges that are out there, we will work together to find a way to overcome them to make sure students have an opportunity to be successful during COVID-19,” Kay said.
Pulling students from school not only would represent a disruption to their development and educational routines; each student pulled from school also represents a $3,532 cut in funding for the school district, since the state allocates funds to schools on a weighted, per-pupil basis that varies by school district and year.
If there were a drove of parents suddenly unenrolling their children from school, Kay said that would result in position and program cuts at the district. “[A parent] going with an outside provider would mean loss of funding, and too many means cutting positions and programs,” she said.
The school district disseminated the publicly available survey to parents via email, phone call, text, Facebook and the district’s website. Responses were voluntary; 446 responses representing 781 students returned. The margin of error on the survey was approximately 3.5%.
Other questions put to parents on the survey asked their feelings with respect to face coverings, what procedures would make parents feel more comfortable about sending their kids back for in-person instruction, and their existing comfort levels with sending their kids back to school.
The majority of parents (55%) said that they wanted school to be held in person every day as normal, and a majority (55%) also said that they would not feel any more comfortable if staff were required to wear face masks in the school.
Of the respondents, 71% said they would send their child back to school in the fall if the schools are open, and 26% said they were uncertain. Twenty-five parents said on the survey they would likely request accommodations for their child.
One question asked what factors parents said would help them feel more comfortable about sending their children back to school and allowed parents to select multiple options. The most popular options by a 20% margin were frequent cleaning of surfaces and supplies; each option yielded more than 76% support.
Evidence and reporting suggest, however, that ventilation may be more important to reducing the spread of the coronavirus than the cleaning of surfaces. Current guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that it “may be possible” that COVID-19 can spread via surfaces, “but this isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
Rather, experts in recent weeks have pointed to evidence that coronavirus spreads primarily through the air, hence the importance of masks in preventing a person from unknowingly shedding viral particles, the apparently lessened spread seen at outdoor gatherings and the impacts ventilating spaces may have in mitigating viral, indoor spread.
Full survey results are available at grandschools.org.