RSU 22 board members sit spaced out in a bus before touring various Hampden area schools the evening of Aug. 4. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Most Maine parents are confident their local schools can implement safety measures aimed at curbing the coronavirus’ spread when school starts this fall, but they don’t have confidence that students will follow the rules.

Those are among the findings from a statewide survey of parents, school administrators and teachers that the Maine Department of Education administered in early July as it planned for a unique fall 2020 semester during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey — of more than 45,000 families, teachers, administrators and other school employees — found that students largely want to return after a spring during which they learned remotely, with 82 percent of parents saying their children were eager to go back to school.

Some 71 percent of parents said they would send their children back to school in person, and 88 percent of administrators said they would return to in-person learning for the fall. About 80 percent of teachers and other school employees said they would return to in-person instruction, potentially leaving schools with a number of vacancies to fill if a fifth of school employees don’t return.

The results come as schools across Maine settle on reopening plans for the fall. Most expect to deploy some combination of in-person and remote learning, even though the state has given the green light for schools in every Maine county to reopen full-time in person.

As they reopen their doors, schools will have to ensure students’ desks are spaced at least 3 feet apart and that adults stay 6 feet away from their students. Everyone will have to wear masks at all times, except during meals. Students will also have to be spaced out on school buses.

Every group that took the survey had concerns about students’ health and safety as they prepare to return. While 59 percent of parents were concerned about students’ health and safety, 82 percent of teachers and 80 percent of other school employees who work with students were. Administrators largely said they were concerned about the health and safety of both students and staff.

And while 60 percent of parents believe their schools can implement state-required measures to prevent the coronavirus’ spread, less than 40 percent of parents had faith that students would adhere to the rules. Just 34 percent thought students would be able to avoid congregating, 35 percent thought they would be able to avoid physical contact, 35 percent thought they would maintain social distancing and 38 percent thought students would wear masks in school.

Teachers had even less confidence that students would follow the rules, with 17 percent expecting students to avoid congregating, 14 percent expecting them to avoid physical contact with others, 15 percent expecting them to keep a safe social distance from others, and 15 percent expecting students to wear masks.