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Survey: Hybrid model for Howard schools reopening is most preferred option for students, parents, educators

Survey results by the Howard County Public School System show that students, parents and teachers all favor a hybrid in-person and online model for reopening this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The wide-ranging survey, which was open to all students, parents and teachers and conducted over a two-week period in June to assist the school system in developing reopening plans, received responses from more than 5,000 staff members, 16,000 parents and 17,000 students.

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Around 65% of teachers who responded to the survey are “quite concerned” or “extremely concerned” about their own safety if school buildings reopen for the fall. Only 14% said they would feel “quite safe” or “completely safe.”

When it came to students and safety guidelines, teachers were also wary of how well students could follow them and how they would be administered. Almost 80% of instructional staff were concerned about students using social distancing in the classroom and hallways, and more than 80% were worried about students keeping on their face masks. Of the 148 administrators surveyed, 65% were “extremely concerned” about students keeping social distance.

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“Seventy-eight percent of our staff are also concerned about students following health guidelines during lunch,” Howard County Education Association President Colleen Morris said during the Board of Education’s meeting July 9. “I’m not sure the last time you’ve eaten with a bunch of young students, but as a second grade teacher, I can tell you I am concerned as well.”

Morris also told the school board that it would have to “negotiate safe working conditions” with the teachers’ union prior to reopening.

The survey, which received responses from 77% of instructional staff and around 40% of students (third through 12th grades) and parents, also asked respondents which reopening model they preferred for the fall: fully online, fully in-person or a hybrid system. All three groups — students, staff and parents — preferred the hybrid model.

A little more than a third of students and staff preferred the hybrid model, while approximately 40% of elementary school parents and half of secondary school parents chose the hybrid model. The difference between students and staff, however, is 26% of students wanted to return fully in person — which Superintendent Michael Martirano has said is unlikely — while almost the same percent of staff (33%) preferred the fully online option. Only 13% of students picked the fully online model. The remainder chose either “unsure” or “no preference.”

Administrators, meanwhile, picked a virtual model over a hybrid model 41% to 36%.

“As being part of the stakeholder group, we saw a disconnect,” Morris said. “We saw more teachers that did not want to come back to brick-and-mortar versus more parents who wanted those students to come back.”

The slight preference of a hybrid model is different than what Anne Arundel County families said in the survey they received from their school system. Almost 50% of families preferred in-person learning, while 32% chose a hybrid model and 20% picked online only.

At last week’s meeting, the school system presented a fully digital, opt-in model for students and staff called the Digital Education Center, which would be a one-year commitment by students and staff. While Martirano said the school system would not be pursuing that option moving forward following pushback from the board, 27% of teachers said they would opt for a fully digital option if it were provided.

When asked about distance learning, the majority of parents wanted teachers to provide newer content, have more live meetings and increase assessments of student progress. Parents also preferred five live lessons a week, while more than 60% of students and teachers preferred between two and three live lessons a week.

“This past spring, we were pushed into a corner to plan something and plan something quick so students were at least learning,” said Ben Schmitt, the union’s vice president. “We have more of a chance now, if we go all virtual, to make it more robust and as close as possible to the normal classroom environment.”

Other statistics of note from the survey include:

On Wednesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said state schools Superintendent Karen Salmon would hold a press conference next week to further discuss the schools situation for the fall.

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“We all want our children to get back to school as soon as possible, but only if and when we can do it in a way that keeps our students and teachers safe,” he said. Hogan added that the state “cannot and should not rush” the decision on schools.

The Howard school board will hold a virtual work session on fall reopening at 4 p.m. Thursday. The work session can be viewed online at hcpss.org or on Channel 42 on Verizon and Channel 95 on Comcast.

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