U-M Study: One-Third Of Michigan Parents Won't Send Kids Back To School

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By WWJ Newsradio 950

(WWJ) Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is set to release her long-awaited plan today for kids to return to school this fall ... but for some parents the details may not matter.

Why? A University of Michigan study found that one-third of Michigan parents may not send their children back to school over fears of coronavirus.

The report, published by the Susan B. Meister Child Health Evaluation and Research Center at the University of Michigan, included 1,193 parents of school-aged children in the three states who were surveyed from June 12-22. 

“Families are facing a challenging decision regarding whether to send their children to school for in-person classes in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says lead author Kao-Ping Chua, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatrician and researcher at Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

“On the one hand, sending children to school could increase the risk of COVID-19 among children and family members. On the other hand, children who don’t return to in-person school may experience disruptions in their education. Some families simply don’t have a choice because they need to go to work.”

Still, the majority of parents surveyed said they will likely send all of their children to school in fall. Most also support certain safety measures, including decreasing the number of children on buses, daily temperature screens for students, alternating between in-person and online classes, regular testing of school staff, and requiring school staff and older children to wear masks.

Parents’ plans on sending their children to school were similar between each state in the survey -- Michigan, Ohio and Illinois -- but they did vary by demographic factors. Respondents who were Black, Hispanic, or Asian were less likely to report that they will send all of their children to school compared with respondents who were white/non-Hispanic.

Parents from low-income households were the least likely to report that they will send all of their children to school, with 40% reporting that they are unsure of their plans or are not planning on sending at least one of their children.

“The disparity by household income raises the possibility of potential educational disruption among less advantaged students,” Chua says. “Efforts should especially be made to understand and address barriers to school attendance for these students, and to ensure high quality education for students who do not attend school in-person.”

More results from the study found:

  • Strong support for a number of measures to reduce COVID-19 exposure risk at school. Three-quarters of parents supported daily temperature screens of students and requiring testing of children if a classmate tests positive for COVID-19.
  • More than 60% of parents supported decreasing the number of children on buses, alternating groups of children between in-person and virtual classes, staggering arrival and pick up times, and random weekly COVID-19 testing for staff. Half supported random weekly COVID-19 testing of children and requiring children to eat meals in classrooms rather than cafeterias.

"Preferences for the number and types of measures vary among parents … but they broadly agree with the notion that schools should take steps to keep children as safe as possible."

  • The study found 12% of parents surveyed indicated they will likely not send at least one of their children to school in the fall, with health concerns being the biggest factor. Respondents were less likely to say their children would attend in-person school if they believe someone in their home has a condition that increases the risk of a severe COVID-19 illness.

But many feel that the in-person school experience is best for their kids.

“I feel like (my child) gets a better education in person. I want her to be able to go to school where she can directly interact with teachers,” one Michigan parent said.

Twenty-one percent of parents said they weren’t sure yet about school attendance plans. Many are waiting to see how the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, while others are waiting to hear more about their schools’ plans.

“If the schools here decide to open, then that will mean we are trending in a favorable direction as far as the virus is concerned. I trust the local school districts to make the best decision based on their staff/cleaning/knowledge of the situation,” a parent from Illinois wrote.