Regional Reentry Thoughtexchange Results

Over 14,000 people participated

Thirty-six percent of participants in a “Thought Exchange” on public school re-openings were comfortable or very comfortable returning students to school this fall, while 25% remained undecided. Twenty-nine percent were not comfortable with sending students back to in-person classes.

These were the results of a survey conducted by Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES using the Thoughtexchange platform for 14 area school districts to gauge public sentiment on re-opening. The goal of the survey was not only to gauge support for re-opening but to allow parents and community members to voice specific concerns and make suggestions that could be used to shape the districts’ re-opening plans.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will announce a decision on school re-opening in early August. All school districts are required to submit detailed plans for re-entry in accordance with state guidance by July 31.

Results from 14 districts across our region

Rather than asking participants to answer a series of questions as typical surveys do, Thoughtexchange begins with an open-ended question and allows participants to enter thoughts on the topic and to react to the thoughts entered by others. Because participants can immediately see reactions to their comments and react to others, the platform is more engaging than a traditional survey.

The opening question for this survey was “What are some things we should consider as we continue to plan for reentry in fall 2020?”

The most frequently voiced thoughts included keeping areas such as the nurse’s office, cafeteria and common areas disinfected and enforcing social distancing in these areas; providing consistent schedules or routines for students and parents; providing extra help for children struggling with coursework due to online learning; ensuring a clean environment; and providing hand sanitizer throughout the school.

The Thoughtexchange, which was open to participating districts from July 6 through July 13, had 14,478 participants, 23,321 thoughts and 666,733 ratings. Seventy-three percent of respondents were parents, 4% were students and 3% were community members. The following districts participated: Bedford, Brewster, Carmel, Chappaqua, Croton-Harmon, Garrison, Hendrick Hudson, Mahopac, Katonah-Lewisboro, Lakeland, North Salem, Ossining, Peekskill and Somers.

Thoughtexchange highlights areas of division and agreement. Although it showed those in the return-to-school and those in the stay-at-home camps firmly entrenched in their views, there was agreement on a number of points including: that parents should have the option of choosing remote learning for their children; hand sanitizer should be readily available throughout the school and in each classroom; and filtered ventilation systems should be used in classrooms where windows cannot be opened.

Areas of division often mirror known differences of opinion in the community, while areas of agreement can be used to create action steps to address issues. There was strong division over statements such as “Distance learning is unhealthy, period. Go back ASAP” and “Going back prematurely is a risk I don’t want to take.”

There was agreement, however, for making parents accountable for not sending children to school when sick. Of the people who reported being most comfortable returning their children to school, the reasons cited most often were the negative effects of distance learning on academic progress and students’ social and emotional development.

Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES assisted to coordinate this regional project which gathered vital information about public opinion on the reopening of school.