NAESP—National Survey of Principals on Reopening Schools

As schools prepare for the 20202021 school year, complex questions loom for education leaders regarding what reopening schools will look like, how it can be done safely, which stakeholders need to be part of the decision-making process and how funding should be allocated.

Even with deep uncertainty surrounding reopening schools, it’s clear that doing it safely will take an all-hands-on-deck approach with strong buy-in from a wide range of stakeholders. With this in mind, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) conducted a national survey of principals—the individuals whose core job it will be to implement reopening plans—to learn more about their perspectives and priorities regarding school reopening planning and implementation.

The survey, conducted from July 716, 2020, includes 798 total responses from NAESP members—both principals and assistant principals—in all 50 states.

“These results affirm that school principals have real concerns about ensuring the safety of students and staff when schools reopen,” says NAESP Executive Director L. Earl Franks, Ed.D., CAE. “Principals will be implementing school reopening plans and they are making absolutely clear they need Congress to step up and deliver additional funding to provide the necessary cleaning protocols, protection equipment and spacing inside school buildings to keep students and school staff safe. If Congress does not act, they will be hanging schools out to dry.”

Key Findings

Respondents represent schools in urban (18%), suburban (52%) and rural (30%) communities. Here are key findings:

Safety of Students and Staff: Only 22% of respondents indicated it was “very or somewhat likely” they could successfully protect students and staff from transmission of the coronavirus if in-person classes resume this fall.

In response to a question about returning to in-person classes, 40% of respondents indicated they were “very concerned” and 33% were “concerned” for their and their staff’s safety. 

When asked about their preferred model for conducting classes this fall, half of the respondents (50%) preferred a hybrid model—a combination of in-person and remote learning—as the best option to reopen schools safely. Some 17% selected “exclusively remote learning,” and 26% preferred the option where students would attend “school in-person five days per week with normal full days,” leaving 7% of respondents undecided. 

The majority of respondents (53%) favored a cohort model, in which one group of students attends in-person classes on certain days, with the other group attending on opposite days. Under this model, students would participate in remote learning when they are home. 11% preferred all students attending school in-person every day for half-days, 18% indicated support for all students attending concurrently a few days a week, 10% preferred a morning/afternoon cohort model (one group attends school in the morning, the opposite group attends in the afternoon), and 8% specified another model.

To comply with social distancing requirements, 60% of respondents favored a “bubble” strategy that keeps students in the same classrooms throughout the day, including lunch. 

Securing Funding for Necessary Resources: Principals identified the following priorities as “extremely important” to ensure schools can open safely: enhanced cleaning protocols (87%); personal protective equipment (75%); providing additional school buses and drivers (57%); and hiring additional staff to implement safety protocols (56%).  

Respondents indicated whether they currently had adequate funding to support these additional safety precautions. Of those who responded, 38% indicated their districts/schools had adequate funding for enhanced cleaning protocols, 38% had funding for personal protective equipment, while only 6% said funding was available to hire new staff to implement safety protocols, and only 4% said they had funding available to provide additional buses and drivers.

But 86% of respondents said it was “extremely important” and 9% said it was “important” for Congress to provide additional funds to districts and schools to help pay for these additional costs to reopen schools safely.

Principal’s Voice in Decision Making: Some 62% of respondents indicated their school districts had a reopening plan for the fall. Only 35% of respondents said they had been consulted “a lot” during the decision-making process, while 17% indicated they were not consulted “at all.” Furthermore, 33% of respondents indicated they know “a lot” about the plan to reopen, with 9% saying they know “nothing” about their district’s plan to reopen schools.

Learning Loss Among Students: In regard to learning loss for students, 64% of respondents indicated they were “very concerned,” with 60% saying they’ve developed a plan to address learning loss but 90% saying they need additional funding to efficiently execute their plans.  

Common Concerns Among Educators

Given the opportunity to elaborate on several of the survey questions, respondents—no matter their school population and demographics—shared common concerns about the challenges of reopening schools. 

  • “Normally our community is united in providing a positive education experience for all students. Unfortunately, the politics surrounding the pandemic and equity have put a strain on some relationships. This has heightened the responsibility and stress of mediation leadership on the principals.”
  • “We can make plans to keep students and staff safe, but those plans require more funding for people and supplies. Our biggest problem is that nobody wants to hear that, and everybody thinks something magical will happen that allows us to do more with less. We’re talking about lives. Like it or not, as a building principal of 720+ students, my first concern right now is not student learning. I don’t want any child or staff member put in harm’s way on my watch. If ever there was a time to put our money where our mouth is, it’s now. Fund education properly so that we can educate our students and put the safety and health of all first.”
  • “Many students only have their grandparents. If students bring home the virus, this could lead to many students being orphaned. Social services already can’t keep up.”
  • “I miss my kids and my community, but I'm scared to be in person. I'm scared for my staff and my students. It's not safe for us to be together yet.”
  • “I am definitely worried about the safety and well-being of our students and staff with the reopening of school. I am also concerned about their safety and well-being if we do not return to in-person instruction. There are many students we have not seen since we began remote learning, and we are concerned about their well-being. This is going to be a difficult situation any way we slice it, and it will be challenging balancing all of the factors to meet the needs of all of our students and staff members. We need to be flexible and ready to change direction based on our individual and community situations. We also need to provide choices for our families given their special circumstances.”