New Poll Shows America’s Teachers Want to Return to Classrooms amid Growing Confidence in Safety Guardrails
WASHINGTON—More than 8 out of 10 AFT educators support a return to in-person learning with safety guardrails in place, and, by a similar margin, approve of the Biden administration’s plan to make reopening schools safely a reality, according to a new national poll released Tuesday.
The wide-ranging survey finds just 16 percent of educators think their school system has gone too far with reopening, and 85 percent would be comfortable working in classrooms if the AFT’s safety recommendations were followed and funded. The vast majority of respondents, 79 percent, say remote learning is not working as well as in-person.
The AFT published its first set of recommendations for how to reopen schools safely in April 2020, and it has updated its guidance as new evidence has come to light, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and vaccine availability.
The poll shows AFT members overwhelmingly trust their union and the CDC to provide sound advice about how and when schools should reopen. Eighty-eight percent support the AFT’s plan for proper safety protocols, including testing, masks, physical distancing, cleaning and sanitizing procedures, and ventilation upgrades in every school.
“Teachers want a path to safely return to their classrooms because they understand the importance of in-school learning for their kids,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “This isn’t an ‘either/or,’ it’s a ‘both/and.’ If we can implement commonsense safety protocols, we can not only open, we can do it safely and with the overwhelming support of teachers and support personnel.”
The poll comes hot on the heels of an acrid national debate over reopening schools: The GOP has made a cynical political calculation, after doing nothing for months to help educators, fight COVID or deal with reopening, and is now attempting to pit parents against teachers by falsely claiming teachers are not willing to return to classrooms. The survey, conducted by Hart Research Associates on behalf of the AFT, puts a lie to those claims.
Overall, 40 percent of educators say their school should be operating in a hybrid mode, 24 percent say it should be fully in person and 34 percent support remote only. But the poll suggests the significant differences in attitudes depending on the mode the respondents were already using. Among those teaching fully in-person, 62 percent say they should remain so; 55 percent using a hybrid model wish to stay teaching that way; and 75 percent teaching remotely would prefer to continue in that mode. Crucially, even those not comfortable with in-person school back the AFT’s reopening plan by 73 percent to 21 percent.
In another promising finding, 23 percent of AFT members say they have already been vaccinated, and an additional 47 percent say they will get vaccinated as soon as a shot is available or within a few weeks.
The AFT has campaigned for months to ensure educators returning to in-person school have priority for the vaccine alongside other essential workers, and it has bargained agreements with cities and school districts to ensure its distribution.
“This poll raises the question of whether, if the last administration had provided educators with a coherent national plan and the resources to fund it 10 months ago—a plan along the lines of the Biden administration’s—and had we implemented the guardrails recommended by the AFT in the early days of the pandemic, we would even be having this noxious debate,” Weingarten added.
“While other countries revere their teachers as professionals and pay them accordingly, elite U.S. commentators and GOP rhetoricians appear to revel in a fresh round of teacher bashing whenever the chance arises—in this case to blame them for Donald Trump’s disastrous response to a devastating pandemic.
“It’s not only wrong on the facts, it’s a reckless and reprehensible way to treat those tasked with making sure the next generation has the opportunity to thrive. Teachers want what children need—a safe and rapid return to in-person learning and the resources to make it real.”
The comprehensive national survey of 800 AFT public school teachers (600) and paraprofessionals and school-related personnel (200), conducted Feb. 4 to 6, 2021 by Hart for the AFT, is available here. The poll deck can be viewed here.
The margin of error for the full sample is +/-3.5%, +/- 4.1% for teachers and +/- 7.1% for PSRPs.
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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.