National Association of Secondary School Principals
NASSP suurvey

Survey says principals are skeptical about whether schools can reopen safely

July 9, 2020
Only 35.2% of principals say they are confident in their school’s ability to preserve the health of staff and students when classrooms reopen.

School leaders responsible for carrying out school reopening plans for 2020-21 have little confidence those provisions will work, according to a poll conducted by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

The association says that of the 1,450 principals who responded, just 35.2% indicated they were somewhat confident or extremely confident in their school or district’s ability to preserve the health of staff and students as schools physically reopen in the fall.”

A similar percentage (34.9%) indicated they were somewhat unconfident or not at all confident.

“A principal’s primary and foundational duty is to keep students safe in school," says NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti. "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 primary concerns shared by principals were the difficulties of maintaining six feet of distance on buses and in crowded classrooms, often in windowless rooms with recirculated air, and getting all students to comply consistently with mask rules and prohibitions against congregating.

Other respondents raisd concerns about the safety of staff, especially those who are older and immunocompromised. By extension, there will be a smaller pool of substitute teachers during a time of extraordinary need.

Principals also expressed concern that would not be able to provide sufficient personal protective equipment and to regularly disinfect their buildings.

Elementary school principals in particular expressed concern about getting very young students accustomed to wearing masks, seeing adults in masks, and maintaining distance.

“How do you tell a four-year old to social distance?” one principal asked. “What about if they are upset and need comforting?”

Still others raised concerns about the politicizing of the response to the pandemic

“My fear is that the public will be looking at each measure as a political statement, and some will ignore the advice of health officials in regards to their kids just to prove a point,” one respondent said. “I’m not looking forward to arguing with those who don’t take this seriously,” said another.

The poll, administered on July 7 and 8, comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s demand that schools fully open in fall 2020 and a threat to withhold federal funding if they do not.

“This administration rarely misses an opportunity to demonstrate how out of touch it is with the reality of today’s schools.” Bartoletti said.

She urged local school administrators not to be distracted by the political jockeying surrounding reopening schools.

"We encourage district leaders to create reopening plans in cooperation with their communities that prioritize the safety of students, educators, and all school stakeholders over political expediency," Bartoletti said. "And we call on the CDC and Department of Education to provide more than their current vague guidance on reopening schools [and] financial support to implement those guidelines.”

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