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Minnesota's non-scientific survey of parents find most are comfortable sending kids back to school in fall

The state is due to make a decision on schools by the end of July.

A non-scientific survey has found that the majority of parents in Minnesota are comfortable sending their kids back to school in the fall.

That's according to the Minnesota Department of Education, which has released the results of its "informal" Fall Planning Survey – which is not based on a scientific sample of Minnesota's residents.

The department however said that its survey collected more than 130,000 responses from parents in the state, as they were surveyed on a wide range of issues relating to distance learning and the return to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The key finding, coming just weeks before the department is due to release its plans for the return of school in the fall, is that 64 percent of those who responded said they were comfortable sending their kids back to school, and of those, 94 percent said they wanted their kids back full-time.

Just over 11 percent said they're not comfortable yet, and just over 24 percent said they're unsure.

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Of those who said they weren't comfortable, 83 percent said it was due to COVID-19 public health concerns, while just over 42 percent said it's because their child or a family member is "medically fragile."

The department has set a deadline of July 27 by which it will reveal its plans for the upcoming school year, and has said it's considering three possible scenarios: A full return with social distancing, a hybrid system of in-class and distance learning, and full distance learning.

But the same survey has thrown up some concerns regarding distance learning, with a majority of parents saying they and their children had a negative experience with distance learning towards the end of the 2019/20 school year.

When asked what their concerns were about distance learning, the top response was that "students didn't feel empowered."

Other concerns include students' mental health due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, along with hard-to-understand school work and too much of it, while a smaller number had difficulties with internet and technology access.

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More positive aspects of distance learning was "good communication from teachers" and from schools.

When asked what would make people more comfortable about sending their kids back to school, most said regular cleaning of surfaces, with the second highest response being "smaller class sizes."

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"We deeply appreciate and value the overwhelming response we received from our families," said Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker. 

"Our educators worked tirelessly this spring to create distance learning plans in just eight days, rethinking the way they educate and connect with our students in order to keep them healthy and safe. As we plan for the upcoming school year, we will listen to the experiences of our families, teachers, and students and the advice of public health experts to determine a safe path forward."

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