University of Michigan study: Virtual school has overwhelmed parents, students

Parents report economic hardships, anxiety, mental health issues, stress, all while working to help children learn from home

Researchers at the University of Michigan are sharing results from a survey that supports what many of us already know: Virtual learning early in the coronavirus pandemic placed a serious mental and economic hardship on American students and parents.

Researchers from the Parenting in Context Research Lab launched the survey in April (April 14). It included responses from 405 U.S. parents who had at least one child age 12 and under. About half of the parents had a child between the ages of 2 and 5.

The majority of parents surveyed (84%) also had another adult in the home who was spending time taking care of the children.

Here are the key findings:

  • Half of parents felt overwhelmed by their responsibilities to educate their children at home and one in four felt they did not have the resources they needed for at-home education.
  • About 24% of parents indicated that their child was fearful or anxious and 30% of parents indicated their child was nervous, high strung or tense.
  • Two out of every five parents met the criteria for major depression and criteria for moderate or severe anxiety.
  • Nearly 60% of parents who utilized free or reduced-cost breakfast or lunch programs were no longer able to receive that resource. This problem suggests that many school-age children faced hunger as the pandemic continued.

The study also found economic hardship was common among the parents surveyed -- 24% reported an employment status change, such as being laid off or furloughed, due to COVID-19.

Overall, however, 55% felt prepared for the educational responsibilities. For them, 77% opted for online tools or social media to teach their kids and 71% received support from the school. Some respondents said they collaborated with other parents, researchers said.

“Social distancing and stay-at-home orders disconnected millions of children from in-person education and left little time for parents to prepare to support their children’s education at home,” said Shawna Lee, the study’s lead author, associate professor of social work and director of the Parenting in Context Research Lab.

You can view the full study findings here.

The study included these selected responses from parents:

  • “Special education for my son with autism has been moved online”
  • “Can’t visit grandparents”
  • “She misses her playmates”
  • “They are restless inside… more fights between them”
  • “Disrupted meal schedules”
  • “His sleep pattern”
  • “Diapers, wipes and formula always sold out everywhere hard to find”
  • “I am trying to work while taking care of them”
  • “Unable to receive procedure… due to non-emergency procedures being canceled.”

This study was conducted in the spring and early summer. However, the pandemic continues as of this writing with students at home enrolled in virtual school. More research is necessary to fully understand the impact at-home, virtual learning is having and will have on families this fall.

There are specific items that have required and will require attention for students and parents:

“It is critical to develop solutions for families that rely on school-provided meals, special education resources, and mental health services,” reads the study summary.

How is virtual learning going? Let us know

As stated, virtual learning for the fall semester is now well underway in many Michigan school districts.

Here at ClickOnDetroit, we want to hear from parents and students about their experiences with this unprecedented situation. We’ve also received many comments from teachers who are double-timing as parents at home.

We have been compiling responses here -- school reports.

Please tell us how it’s going:

More: Return to School coverage