Qualtrics recently published a back-to-school study detailing what is on parents’ minds this year. Only 31% of K-12 parents feel that their child is “very safe” at school and 46% of parents have either changed schools for their children or considered doing so because they do not feel that their kids are safe.
The study asked over 1,000 K-12 parents how they felt about school safety, learning gaps, mask mandates and other concerns for schools. The top safety concern for parents this year was school shootings, followed by bullying and COVID-19.
To make sense of the results, the Deseret News interviewed Byron Adams, the principal consultant for education at Qualtrics. Adams previously held network leadership roles at Boston Public Schools and the Noble Network of Charter Schools.
Adams told the Deseret News that this is the first year this study has been conducted and that the company would like to track this data over time.
One data point of the study concluded that 39% of private/religious school parents feel their child is safe compared to 37% of public charter school parents and 28% of traditional public school parents.
When asked about these numbers, Adams said, “I think all of those are pretty low in general. ... Anything below 50% is less than positive and I would be concerned about those parents’ perceptions.”
He indicated that the study didn’t exactly get into the reasons for the gap between private/religious, public charter and traditional public schools. However, he said it could be interesting to further explore whether the gap was related to the choice to enroll a child in a private or public charter school making the parent feel like they have more control over their child’s education and environment.
A student’s own sense of safety matters, just like a parent’s perception of their child’s safety. Adams said, “Student sense of belonging and student safety ultimately impacts achievement. It plays a really critical role in children’s development. If a child doesn’t feel safe in a place that they have to go to every day ... the long-term impact of that on their learning and their mental and emotional health is detrimental.”
Moving children to a different school because of safety issues
The study showed that 13% of parents moved their child to a new school because of safety concerns and 33% of parents are considering it. The Deseret News asked Adams about the impact of these moves.
Adams said that for him, he considers it an equity issue.
He further explained, “If you’ve moved already or you’re contemplating a move, that indicates some type of resource availability. We know from lots of data points, especially if you look at things like white flight from districts in the late ’80s and often what we’ve seen now is lower enrollment in major cities.”
Chicago, where Adams is based, has lost over 10,000 students in the public school system. This causes school districts to lose money overall.
“Does that expose the school to more risk,” Adams asked, “because the money they would have had invested in stronger resources and safer school climate is now leaving because students are leaving?”
What it comes down to, in Adams’ opinion, is whether or not districts are communicating with parents about risk mitigation. He said that there are other larger questions involved, like, “Are we funding schools at the right level?”
One of the long-term solutions that he says might help is if schools could get funding based on the need in their districts as opposed to raw enrollment.
How politicization of school shootings has impacted solutions
Adams said that a lot of the solutions presented on the national level to mitigate school shootings have political implications for people. When they consider different policies, people often ask, “Does this align with my personal values and my political values?”
“Unfortunately, it is a topic that aligns so closely with party affiliation that in some instances, it may hamper the solution and gathering there,” Adams said.
He said that local communities should discuss policies with the outcome of making sure that kids stay safe. On his local school council in Chicago, they start every meeting with what they want the outcome to be.
“What schools really need to pay attention to are what are our communities’ needs and how do we understand those needs and get to be where we need to be while being responsive to parents’ concerns,” he said.
He added that student voices matter and need to be included in the discussion around school safety — while students can’t vote, they should be able to share their concerns.