Survey: most CUSD parents prefer in-person learning - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Survey: most CUSD parents prefer in-person learning

February 15th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Survey: most CUSD parents prefer in-person learning

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

More than 70 percent of Chandler Unified School District parents support in-person learning and want it to remain for the foreseeable future, according to a new survey conducted by the district.

Of the 13,600 parents who responded to the survey last month, 72 percent preferred the in-class instruction model CUSD has had in effect districtwide since Jan. 19.

Of the remainder, 19 percent prefer the virtual instruction CUSD briefly implemented during the first two weeks of the current semester and 8 percent prefer the district’s online school.

The appeared to support the district’s contested choice to return to in-person learning at a time when COVID-19 cases were spiking in early January.

Arizona reported its highest number of positive cases on Jan. 4, the day before CUSD students were scheduled to return to classrooms.

The district decided at the last minute to have students temporarily stay home for two weeks and learn virtually until the state’s infection rate started to drop.

The results were discussed by the CUSD Governing Board on Feb. 10, the day before new data from the county health department showed that one of three benchmarks measuring COVID-19 spread – hospital visits with COVID-like symptoms – had finally fallen into the moderate range after registering substantial spread levels for nearly two months.

The other two benchmarks remained in the substantial spread category, but had fallen from the previous week with cases per 100,000 going from 578 to 403 and positive new test results falling from 19.3 to 14.9 percent.

The survey showed 21 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the virtual model that started the semester, while 60 percent were pleased with it.

Another 2 percent of parents said they declined to have their child participate in the two-week virtual period — a troubling statistic that might help explain why Arizona school districts have lost track of an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 students throughout the pandemic. 

Hundreds of parents have taken their children out of CUSD as the district repeatedly shifted from virtual to in-person learning during the current school year.

Virtual learning differs from the Chandler Online Academy because it involves classroom teachers using video technology to transfer their in-person lessons to a digital format.

Many parents wanted CUSD to continue a virtual option this semester, calling the academy inadequate for honor students or those who require more one-on-one instruction.

The survey shows 65 percent of parents were generally satisfied with the academy while 19 percent felt the online school was not meeting their child’s needs.

Parents of elementary students expressed more satisfaction with the academy than those of high school students but more high school students’ parents preferred virtual learning than parents of younger students.

Overall, 44 percent of parents thought CUSD had been handling the pandemic better than other school districts. Twelve percent felt Chandler’s response was “much worse” and 27 percent thought CUSD reacted “about the same” as its peers.

The survey was conducted between Jan. 26-31 and responses represented 16,400 of the district’s approximate 44,000 students.

Amber Stouard, the district’s director of research, said CUSD tried its best to make the survey accessible to all parents without allowing outsiders a chance to hack it and manipulate the data.

The district could have required respondents to submit more personal information in order to authenticate their responses, she said, but that could have created barriers for some parents to participate.   

“I think that’s something we’re going to have to continue to work on — to find a way to authenticate in a true way and not keep families out,” Stouard added.

Respondents were not broken down by race or socio-economic status, which some Governing Board members think would have been useful information to have. 

Board member Lindsay Love said she would like to know if the district’s racial or ethnic minorities have had a different experience interacting with CUSD during the pandemic.   

There seems to be a significant lack of trust between school districts and people of color across the country, she said, and it is impacting how those families are educating their children.

“I’m just kind of wondering if that is a trend within our district where we’re losing families of color because of lack of trust,” Love said.

Black families living in large cities have preferred keeping their children home during the pandemic at higher rates than white families, according to the New York Times.

Last summer, a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found white families showed more support for reopening schools than their Black counterparts.   

Despite the positive support parents seem to have for Chandler’s current mode of instruction, the district is still having to track dozens of active COVID-19 cases across its 42 campuses.

At least 1,100 employees and students have contracted the coronavirus while on campus over this last year and hundreds more have reported getting infected outside of school.

CUSD has recently extended a sick-leave policy that allows staff to miss up to 10 days of work for a COVID-related illness or to care for an infected family member. The federal government had been providing the extra sick time until legislation expired at the end of December.

“We have had several employees who have contracted COVID-19 since January 1, 2021 and they have had to use their own sick leave days,” a district memo states.

“We have also had other employees who had to go unpaid while they were out with COVID-19 because they did not have any sick leave days accrued.”