Lifting Up All Families’ Voices Around School Reopening

It’s easy to feel discouraged and upset when you turn on the news these days.

So much is happening to progress the fight for racial equity and justice in this country that even a global pandemic seems to have taken the backseat.

The truth is that without a precedent for our current events, we are all making sense of them as they come.

We face tremendous uncertainty in the days and months ahead, especially in the education sector.

No one knows what school should or will look like when the 2020-2021 year begins in the fall. And that is scary. 

But here’s why I’m feeling encouraged.

Without a doubt, the Black Lives Matter movement is bringing critical and often unheard voices to the forefront.

I’m also starting to see this happening in schools, with many districts really lifting up the voices of parents and families as they make decisions for what reopening schools will look like.

I’ve seen multiple districts just this past week sharing surveys with families about reopening.

How can we truly serve children and families if we don’t know what they fear, what they want, or what they need?

So if your school, organization, or district is trying to imagine what school will look like in August, and you haven’t talked to families and students, now’s the time to use some simple evaluation strategies to give power to their perspectives.

Here are a few tips to get started. 

Think about what you really need and want to know from your stakeholders. 

Make a list of what your team is wondering about or what the impact of proposed plans might be before you draft your survey questions.

For example, many districts are considering alternate schedules to accommodate all students in socially distant ways.

Here are a few things to think about: 

  • Do families have access to childcare and meals for when their kids would not be in school?
  • How do their work schedules align or conflict with proposed school schedules?
  • Would entire families be on the same schedule, or would parents and guardians have to juggle multiple schedules?
  • What are their fears and concerns (and those of their children) about returning to school?


We can turn these internal questions into survey questions for students and families to share their thoughts and influence these critical decisions. 

Encourage your survey respondents to commit to an answer. 

Whenever I take a survey, and I don’t really know or care about the answer, I always select the non-committal, middle option.

Most people do – it’s human nature. However, during this especially important time, we can’t risk having a whole bunch of middle of the road responses.

Consider using a four-point (instead of a five-point) scale that encourages respondents to indicate if they’re feeling negatively or positively about what you’re asking.

Instead of a neutral/not sure answer choice in the middle, have them choose from a scale like this: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree.

Include a “not applicable” option if you feel that’s relevant – we don’t want to force answers that don’t make sense – but this type of scale will give your team a better sense of which way your stakeholders are leaning and help you make more informed decisions.

Make it equitable and accessible. 

Hopefully it goes without saying that not all students and families can access a survey that is online and only in English.

To embrace and reflect the diversity of our nation’s school districts, we must try to reach our stakeholders in multiple ways.

Of course, an online survey is the easiest way to collect information, and many families can at least access the internet on their phones.

However, some families cannot, and to truly understand what your families and students are feeling about reopening, we need to try to reach them as well.

Think about mailing surveys or distributing them at food giveaways or other local gathering places.

Or, if you’re unable to translate the survey into every language spoken in your district, hire a few bilingual staff members or outside interpreters to do brief phone surveys with families whose native language isn’t English. 

For the most successful reopening possible in the fall, districts need to know what families and students are thinking now. 

Brief surveys are an easy, cost-effective way to reach a large percentage of your stakeholders.

Schools and districts need to think creatively to hear from as many families as they can and make their understanding of student and family needs as inclusive and diverse as possible.

You’ll be amazed at how much more informative your results can be!