A new poll found North Dakota parents are split on how to best teach children during the COVID-19 pandemic, as education administrators continue to grapple with whether to keep kids in classrooms or online amid a surge in cases.
Forty-two percent of North Dakota households with children said classes should be taught online until the pandemic is over, but 35% said schools should use a hybrid approach that includes some in-person learning. Twenty-three percent said students should immediately return to their classrooms.
The online poll was commissioned by the North Dakota Newspaper Association in partnership with North Dakota United, the education and public workers union. Nashville, Tenn.-based Coda Ventures surveyed 400 people across the state on the COVID-19 pandemic.
The results didn’t surprise Dr. Tracie Newman, a member of the Fargo Public School Board involved in COVID-19 instructional plans. She said parents protested when students went to virtual classes, but there were objections when kids reentered the classroom as well.
“I think week to week, attitudes change,” Newman said.
Decisions on whether to teach kids online, in the classroom or a mix of both are being made at the local level in North Dakota, Newman said, with guidance from the state. Elementary students in Fargo Public Schools are learning in-person, while middle and high schools are using a hybrid model.
Newman said Fargo officials are waiting to see how the Thanksgiving holiday plays out before making any changes to instructional plans. Health experts have warned against gathering for the holiday as cases spike around the country.
But many parents’ apparent desire for kids to get their education online contrasts sharply with current practices around the state.
More than half of the teachers responding to a separate North Dakota United poll in October said their school was using face-to-face instruction. Another 43% were employing a hybrid model and only 2% were strictly virtual. Teachers were fairly split on which setting was best.
North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta said their polling shows teachers increasingly favor distance learning. As cases spike, it makes sense that North Dakotans would favor keeping kids at home to slow the virus’s spread, he said.
“People read the papers, they watch the news, they know that our health care systems are overrun and overwhelmed,” he said.
Newman, a pediatrician, said school officials need to also consider the effects of keeping kids out of the classroom, such as social isolation and the economic consequences for parents who need to stay home and watch their children. She said the community needs to take other steps, such as increasing mask usage, before schools are asked to make big sacrifices to fight the pandemic.
“Schools provide a lot more than just education for children,” Newman said.