In-person school? Half of Fairfield parents say yes, 18 percent no, rest unsure

FAIRFIELD — A recent survey of parents and staff by the school district showed uncertainty within both groups about how to approach the coming school year.

Superintendent Mike Cummings went over the survey results during a Tuesday night presentation on school reopening to the Board of Education. One of the main takeaways, he said, was the need for reassurance on the district’s preparedness to ensure student and staff safety.

Out of more than 4,500 parents asked, 18 percent said they would prefer to continue distance learning until a vaccine was developed and distributed. While 46 percent of respondents said no, more than 36 percent said maybe.

Of the maybes, approximately 80 percent said they would be more comfortable sending their child to school if there were low infection rates in Connecticut. Another 64 percent said school district precautions would make them more comfortable with in-building learning.

Only 7 percent of respondents said their child or another person at home had a pre-existing condition that would prevent them from returning to school.

The survey also polled Fairfield schools staff, of whom 1,072 responded.

About a quarter — 28.2 percent — said they would prefer to work from home, even though they had no one in their home with pre-existing conditions. More than 12 percent of staff said they or someone in their home had pre-existing conditions.

Planning for the coming school year, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, is a complicated process with more questions than answers, Cummings said, adding that plans will see continuous revision as the first day of school gets closer.

“There’s a great complexity to this,” Cummings said. “It’s all worth it if we can get the kids back, because there is a great benefit to getting the kids back together.”

Cummings said the school system is planning for three different types of situations: students returning to school, parents choosing to keep their students home for virtual learning and a hybrid school week where cohorts of students come in on different days.

The superintendent pointed out that they are working in an ever-changing situation, with state officials still working on guidelines. One thing is certain, Cummings said, students that come into school will be wearing face masks.

“Unless somebody has a note from a doctor,” Cummings said, “they’re going to be expected to wear a mask.”

Cummings said having all students wear face masks will allow the schools to place students closer than 6 feet apart. He said the schools are replacing shared table seating with traditional desks and removing other furniture to free up space.

Students will not be allowed to share supplies, Cummings said, and teachers may travel from room to room while students stay in place to reduce the number of cohorts a student is in. He said the nature off the middle schools makes that effort problematic, adding that the size of the high schools will make it difficult.

According to Cummings, transportation is also a complicated aspect of planning.

As part of the survey, parents were asked about busing. Of those eligible for district-provided transportation, slightly more than half said they would prefer to bring their children to and from school rather than having them take the bus.

The superintendent said parents driving their children to school may impact traffic, but the school system is planning to start the year with buses at full capacity and make changes as time goes on.

The superintendent said next steps include finding out which students and staff are going to return to school in person and placing them in the best learning environment.

Cummings said the district’s draft reopening plan is due to the state on July 24. He said officials would continue to revise and fine tune it in the following weeks.

“Things are going to be changing a lot in the next month and a half,” he said, adding that the school system would “continue to do best by the kids.”