Griffin Price, 6, participates in virtual learning at his San Antonio home. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Poll finds most parents Almost three-quarters of Bexar County parents believe schools have done a better job with distance learning this fall than last spring, a recent Bexar Facts/KSAT/San Antonio Report poll found.

However, opinions about the effectiveness of online school remain mixed, with just 37 percent of parents describing their students’ learning as extremely or very productive and 39 percent characterizing it as somewhat or not productive.

In a Bexar Facts poll conducted in April, 33 percent of respondents described distance learning as either extremely productive or very productive and 48 percent of parents polled described distance learning as somewhat productive or not productive at all.

Bexar Facts released its findings Tuesday after pollsters interviewed 619 registered Bexar County voters from Sept. 17 to 21 online and over the phone in English and Spanish. The margin of error is +/- 4 percent.

Because the Bexar Facts/KSAT/San Antonio Report poll surveys registered voters, the respondents tend to be older, more affluent and educated, and more likely to own a home, said Bexar Facts pollster David Metz said.

The poll found that 72 percent of respondents said schools are doing a much better or somewhat better job of distance learning since school started this fall compared to last spring, when school systems across Texas abruptly closed their campuses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Thirty-nine percent of parents felt their kids had fallen behind academically in the past five months, according to the poll.

Before schools resumed in August, school district leaders assured students and families that distance learning would look much different than it did in the spring, when educators had little time to prepare for the shift to remote learning.

“We have taught for decades in person and that’s the way we’ve done things and we had five days to pivot [in March],” North East Independent School District Superintendent Sean Maika said before the start of the school year. “What we’ve done is really taken the lessons that we learned in the input from our teachers, our students, and our community and really transformed what we do.”

In the poll, 75 percent of parents said they felt well prepared to support their children in distance learning. Sixty-three percent said they felt school districts have done a good job of ensuring all students have access to the internet.

The State allowed school districts to keep their campuses closed at the start of the fall semester as long as students had the appropriate devices and internet access for remote learning.

For some school districts, this meant parking Wi-Fi enabled buses in various locations so nearby students could complete assignments. Last week, the City of San Antonio jumped into the effort to improve connectivity by announcing the opening of eight virtual learning hubs in community centers around San Antonio.

Without home internet, the Lopez family utilizes WiFi from a Southside ISD school bus parked on a vacant lot along Highway 281. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Since the fall semester started and public health data has shown a decrease in new coronavirus cases, school districts have slowly started to reopen their classrooms to more students for in-person instruction.

With the City’s risk indicator for in-person learning in the “yellow zone” for moderate risk, health officials recommend no more than 25 percent of building occupancy in any school facility and no more than six students in any classroom. Some schools have followed this indicator closely, while others have allowed any students who wish to return for in-person learning back into the school buildings.

San Antonio ISD has limited in-person attendance to no more than 25 percent of students on each campus, phasing in classes gradually. SAISD started on Sept. 8 with 10 percent of students back for in-person class and brought an additional 10 percent on Sept. 21.

On Monday, North East ISD will enter into Phase 3 of its reopening plan, bringing no more than 15 students back into one classroom at a time. The city’s largest school district, Northside ISD, opened classrooms on Sept. 8 to students in need of specialized learning environments and English language learners. Over the past few weeks, NISD gradually has brought more students back for in-person instruction. On Monday, Northside hopes to open classrooms to anyone who chose in-person learning, a spokesman said.

Smaller districts have reopened more quickly, with Alamo Heights ISD bringing students back to campuses in phases beginning Sept. 8 and inviting anyone who wanted in-person learning back on Sept. 21. Edgewood ISD invited 25 percent of students into classrooms on Sept. 14 and plans to phase in all remaining students who choose face-to-face instruction on Oct. 12.

The recent Bexar Facts poll found 85 percent of registered Bexar County voters favor limiting the number of students allowed in a school classroom at one time to prevent the virus’s spread.

Opinions were more evenly divided over the prospect of resuming contact sports, although most public schools already have resumed sports practices and competitions. Fifty-one percent were in favor of allowing contact sports to resume, and 47 percent were opposed.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.