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Western New York schools survey parents, teachers on fall return to classes with COVID-19

The questions cover buses to the economic impact of the coronavirus. Sixteen school districts around Erie County took part in the effort.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — This has been an unusual school year with remote learning and buildings closed in mid-March with concerns about COVID-19, so it may seem hard to believe it is finally over with the official end of classes in many districts.

But some school administrators are already looking down the road to early September.

Sixteen school districts around Erie County have come together to set up a survey to ask parents what they think about a return to classes amidst a potential ongoing pandemic. Some health experts fear there could be another surge of cases in the autumn months. 

The survey is the original idea of City of Tonawanda Superintendent Timothy Oldenburg, who spoke with 2 on Your Side.

"There has been and there is a lot of anxiety and concern about what school will look like as we move forward with this pandemic period and as we approach the start of a new school year," Oldenburg said. "And we're hopeful and optimistic that the data that we receive from this survey will help inform us so that we can make decisions that align with the expectations of our community."

He also pointed out that they are seeking direct information from parents and teachers to make sure decision makers at the state and county level have that input.

"We've taken a lot of direction from the Governor and from state and local health officials on our response to educational programming through this pandemic period," Oldenburg said. "And we want to make sure that as we move into these critical weeks where we start to begin the plan for next year, that we can advocate and share the voice of our communities in what their expectations are for instruction moving forward.

"There's been a lot of talk about virtual learning in the sense of what that could look like in the fall, but from what we're hearing and anecdotal situations from parents is that there are a lot of parents that are ready and expect school to open in the face to face settings. So for the survey we want to make sure that we have that data."

Hamburg School Superintendent Michael Cornell says the questions cover topics ranging from bus transportation to scheduling.

"Getting your kids to school. Whether or not they wear masks in school. Whether or not people feel confident in our ability to keep your kid safe in school within the context of COVID-19. You know ... whether or not they would be accepting of some modified schedule like every other day," Cornell said.

The survey also looks a extracurricular programs, which can be extremely important to students and parents.

Oldenburg explains: "Another part of our survey does focus on athletics and extracurriculars and what parents expect as far as safety protocols on whether there is a safe environment. But also how they can participate as a fan, as spectator."

Cornell also says they are looking at the economic impact on parents.

"There's a question on there about people's employment status," Cornell said. "And you know what their current employment status is. And then a follow-up question that asks if students were to return to school every day for a full day. What impact would that have on their employment status? There's been a lot of conversation about students being in school for a full day and our ability to fully reopen the economy."

This survey closes next Friday. But with possible changes in the COVID curve, they may conduct another survey 45 days from now to see if there are any significant changes in the opinions of parents and teachers.

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