As the debate rages over how to safely send kids back to school, new Morning Consult polling indicates 2 in 3 parents with children at home are in favor of reopening K-12 schools for full in-person learning this fall — but they’re divided on the role vaccines should play in bringing students back to the classroom.
Young children remain ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines in the United States, and school districts across the country are weighing the path forward after more than a year of interrupted learning. Now, their plans are being punctured by the delta variant, which is ripping through the country and driving up hospitalizations among those under 18.
The poll suggests that in the past month, parents’ current comfort with an in-person return to school has fallen: 36 percent of those with kids ages 5-18 said they are currently comfortable with in-person schooling, up 9 percentage points from a week ago but down from 39 percent in mid-July.
The share of parents who at least “somewhat” agree with the following:
And while 60 percent of parents said all teachers should be vaccinated before returning to the classroom, just 48 percent said the same about students. Another 42 percent said they’ll pull their kids from school if vaccinations are required to return for in-person instruction.
“We have to have a conversation about the risk-benefit of requiring the vaccine for kids,” especially once it gains full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, said Dr. Brian Castrucci, president and chief executive officer of the de Beaumont Foundation, a public health nonprofit. “We need to be ready to talk to people about what it means, and why it should encourage you to feel safe about this vaccine.”
The findings come as the head of the country’s second-largest teachers’ union said she supports vaccine mandates for educators in light of the delta variant, reversing an earlier opposition to the requirements.
Despite the disconnect over vaccines, 72 percent of parents said their children’s schools have generally made the right decisions around the COVID-19 pandemic, and a similar share said they are confident their schools will have the right resources to safely reopen.
In the poll, a slim majority of parents agreed that schools should be careful about opening in-person before it’s safe, even if it interferes with kids’ education, while 36 percent said schools should open as soon as possible, even if it increases COVID-19 risk. Considering the fall semester, roughly equal shares of nearly 2 in 5 parents were most likely to back in-person learning only or a hybrid model that includes in-person and online instruction for K-12 students. Just 15 percent favored online-only learning.
Parents of children aged 5 to 18 were asked, “Which is the best model for K-12 students for the school year starting in Fall 2021?”
On Sunday, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the country has reached a “fork in the road” between keeping students safe in the classroom by requiring mask-wearing and making decisions that “will hurt students.”
In Florida, for example, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has threatened to revoke funding for school districts that keep mask mandates in place, and in Texas, pushback is growing to Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) executive order that the state’s schools can’t require masks.
“We need to make sure that we are giving our kids every opportunity to experience in-person school, and to do that, we need to put certain safety precautions in place,” Castrucci said.
A separate Morning Consult survey indicates parents of kids under 13 are broadly supportive of a range of safety measures, including 77 percent who back mask mandates and 76 percent who would support school closures if COVID-19 outbreaks occur.
The polls were conducted Aug. 6-9 and Aug. 5-8 among 2,200 adults each, both with 2-point margins of error. The sample of 507 parents with kids ages 5-18 has a 4-point margin of error.