WASHINGTON—The nation’s teachers and parents are seeing through the Trump administration’s chaos and disinformation over reopening schools this fall, new polling shows. And while supermajorities of the poll’s respondents fear they or their child will be infected with the virus, they are united behind the need to secure safety measures and the resources to pay for them, so students can return to in-person learning.
Sixty-eight percent of parents—including 82 percent of Black parents—and 77 percent of teachers say protecting the health of students and staff should be the primary factor in weighing whether, how and when schools should open their doors for in-person instruction, according to the survey, conducted by Hart Research Associates.
Just 21 percent of parents and 14 percent of teachers say schools should reopen on a normal in-person basis—as demanded by President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—and significant majorities reject the administration’s plan to strip federal aid from schools that don’t comply.
With the coronavirus still spreading rapidly in large swaths of the country, majorities of both parents and teachers worry their districts will move too quickly to fully reopen, rather than too slowly.
Majorities of teachers (60 percent) and parents (54 percent) are not comfortable starting the school year in person, and concern for personal safety is the top reason they remain leery. But, crucially, when safety protections such as masks, daily deep cleaning and sanitizing, physical distancing, proper ventilation and the funding to provide them are in place, 71 percent of parents and 79 percent of teachers are comfortable returning.
Parents and teachers voice high levels of concern about the personal risks of coronavirus infection. And 1 in 3 teachers say the pandemic has made them more likely to leave teaching earlier than they planned. Most teachers say they have purchased personal protective equipment for themselves (86 percent) or their students (11 percent).
Overall, half of parents and teachers report their schools are opening with at least some in-person instruction, with 2 in 5 schools opening remotely. Parents think remote learning has had a more negative impact on their children’s social-emotional health than on their academic progress. Most parents feel an adult will need to be with their child for remote learning; 3 in 10 of them say it will be difficult to make this happen.
Hart Research conducted the comprehensive national survey on behalf of the American Federation of Teachers, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the NAACP.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “Parents and teachers are on the same page when it comes to school reopening—and they are united in the belief that we must protect our students, educators and communities’ safety and health and reject President Trump and Betsy DeVos’ agenda to strip schools of funding if they don’t fully reopen.
“We all want to get back to in-person learning, but that should not happen until there are COVID-19 safety measures in place and the funding to pay for them. While teachers and parents have been toiling for months to try and reopen, Trump downplayed the virus. While the president never misses an opportunity to threaten schools, or to sow confusion or chaos, he and DeVos were missing in action when it came to planning and resourcing what should have been the country’s biggest priority: reopening schools for our kids. Indeed, the only guidance DeVos has issued for this year is to mandate standardized high-stakes tests. One just wonders why kids’ and teachers’ health can be dispensable, but high-stakes testing is not.”
NAACP Vice President of Civic Engagement Jamal Watkins said: “The facts: Data, analytics and example after example have proven that the school system today is still fraught with unequal funding, environmental racism and toxic stress to which students of color are exposed—and the underlying factor is structural racism. With the mismanagement of COVID-19 and the failure of both the Trump administration and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, we are deeply concerned that reopening without key guardrails and a true plan that puts students, parents, educators and staff first is a disaster that will continue to unfold.
“We stand with the AFT and will use every action and tool available to us, from serving on state and local reopening committees to filing lawsuits and other advocacy actions against unsafe and unsound plans, or the faulty implementation of plans. Nothing is off the table when it comes to the safety and health of those on the frontlines in America's schools.”
AROS Executive Director Keron Blair said: “Parents, educators and students are united in thinking that Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos have not done enough to keep our children and communities safe as they press for the reopening of schools. We have also seen that where remote learning is being offered, adequate technology has not been provided to make access to learning equitable. The coronavirus pandemic is a health crisis. It is a racial justice crisis. And it is, for sure, a crisis and failure of leadership. The information revealed in this poll strengthens our claims and adds necessary fuel to the fights that parents and educators are leading for the safe and equitable reopening of schools.”
Sindy Benavides, CEO of LULAC, said: “Our nation’s classrooms are a microcosm of what is occurring everywhere in our country during this pandemic, and we now know that even children are not immune in close proximity among themselves or with others. The only difference is that what we, as adults, decide to do is our choice, while students are being mandated, and by extension their teachers and school staff, to re-enter spaces that at present pose a risk of exposure to the virus. Latino parents are facing disproportionate challenges, including higher numbers of COVID-19 as America’s essential workers, higher unemployment rates, and lack of access to technology. LULAC has always viewed public education as an essential component for the progress of an individual and our community. However, we cannot in good faith support sending our youngsters into possible harm’s way while some elected officials play politics with their lives.”
The online poll of 1,001 parents of public school K-12 students, including 228 Latino parents and 200 Black parents, was conducted Aug. 26 to Sept. 6, 2020; the online survey of 816 public school teachers across the United States was conducted Aug. 26 to Sept. 1, 2020.
The full poll deck is available here.