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Survey shows Helena families want kids back in school, staff prefers hybrid model
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Survey shows Helena families want kids back in school, staff prefers hybrid model

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Helena Middle School sixth grade students trickle into the building Monday morning

Helena Middle School sixth grade students trickle into the building on Aug. 31, the first day of Helena Public Schools’ “rolling start” week.

While most parents and families who responded to a recent Helena Public Schools survey indicated they want children in the classroom more often, most school district employees indicated they want the current hybrid online/in-person model to continue for now. 

The survey, which was live for approximately a week, had 3,296 responses from parents or family members of students and 757 responses from staff. Of the parents who responded, the biggest group has a child in high school and the next biggest group has a child in second, third, fourth or fifth grade. 

Since the beginning of the fall semester, students in the Helena district have split their time between in-school and at-home instruction, with most spending two days a week in the classroom. This allows the school district to have only about half of the student body in the classroom at the same time. 

When asked what the district should consider for the second semester, 58% of parents (1,917) indicated they want schools to phase up to an all-students model. Only 917 parents indicated they want to maintain the current model.

Only 27% of staff indicated they want the district to consider phasing up to an all-students model. Additionally, 52% of staff indicated they want to maintain the current model until COVID-19 cases reach a specific level, and 39% indicated that maintaining consistency was the most important factor. 

Despite parents' desire to return to an all-students model, most of them indicated that the first part of the school year was appropriately restrictive given the ongoing pandemic. Approximately 62% indicated the restrictions seemed appropriate for the conditions, and 35% felt the district was overly restrictive.

However, 47% of parents also indicated that the school district has not met the academic needs of students this school year, and 58% indicated that students' social/emotional needs are not being met. Most parents, 52%, indicated the district did provide ample health and safety for all.

Only 36% of staff indicated that the school district has not met the academic needs of students, and 42% indicated that the social/emotional needs of students and their families have suffered this year. Most staff, 72%, indicated the school district provided ample health and safety for all. 

Of the parents with a child enrolled in the fully online Digital Learning Initiative, 489 indicated they would keep their student in the program and 472 indicated that their child would return to school if the district returns to an all-students model. Additionally, 287 indicated they do not have a child in the Digital Learning Initiative but would enroll in the program if the district chooses to phase up. 

Most parents (86%) and staff (74%) indicated the district did an adequate job communicating about COVID-19. 

District Superintendent Tyler Ream said this survey, like any, provided needed feedback to the administration moving forward.

"It's not as specific as firsthand feedback but does provide understanding and context as to how or school communities are generally viewing these important matters," Ream said. "These results have been shared with our families and employees as well as our Board of Trustees. I'd like to thank everyone who participated."

The school district wrapped up a second survey Monday, but the results are not yet available. In that survey, the district noted that phasing up would likely increase the number of close contacts associated with identified virus cases, which would in turn increase the likelihood of school-related quarantines. 

The district's COVID-19 committee will review the results and make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees about how to move forward. According to Ream, parents can expect a decision this month. 

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