WASHINGTON—A majority of the nation’s parents have joined teachers in their overwhelming support for full school reopening in the fall, new polling shows. And the last remaining piece of the reopening puzzle—a lingering lack of trust within communities hit hard by COVID-19—can be overcome if states and districts adopt the safety guardrails recommended by the AFT.
The national education survey, conducted by Hart Research Associates with the support of the NAACP, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, found 73 percent of parents—but only 59 percent of Black parents—said they are comfortable with in-person learning for their child this fall.
However, if the safety measures in the AFT’s reopening plan—layered mitigation strategies, testing and vaccinations—are in place, the percentage of parents who are comfortable jumps to 94 percent, including 87 percent of Black parents.
In a previous Hart survey, released in February, 85 percent of AFT educators supported a return to in-person learning if the AFT’s safety recommendations were followed and funded.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “I’ve been in constant contact with parents’ groups and caregivers this year. If COVID has taught us anything, it’s how essential in-school learning is, and how vital the supports and resources are for returning. School is where kids work together and play together. And parents rely on schools, not only to educate their kids but also so they can work and live their lives.”
“The main task now,” Weingarten said, “is building trust and confidence among Black and brown families who have borne the brunt of COVID—to show, not tell, that schools are safe given the new variants, as long as we have a layered mitigation approach in place. And, as we emerge from this pandemic, we now have an opportunity now to reimagine education.”
Weingarten will deliver a major national address on reimagining public education and public schools on Thursday.
The survey found trust among parents has increased over time—they are feeling more comfortable with in-person learning than they were last year, and express higher confidence in schools to keep children and staff safe. And they are highly satisfied with the job schools have done dealing with the coronavirus pandemic: 85 percent are satisfied, a 9-point gain from last summer when 76 percent were satisfied. Still, many continue to worry about the risk of infection in schools and say that the top criteria for making reopening decisions should be the safety of students and staff.
“What will be long remembered from 2020-21 is the health pandemic and the devastation it brought to all,” said Caroline Sanchez Crozier, LULAC Education Committee chair. “However, for communities of color and low-income people, the added cataclysmic impact of the combined structural racism, economic collapse and education disruption has had a disproportionate impact. The disruption in the advancement of learning for Black and brown students especially has unmasked the racism that is deeply rooted in our country. The successive shocks have exacerbated pre-existing inequities, digital divides and unequal resource distribution across these communities. Public schools are a primary engine of social and economic mobility, educating and supporting the development of our children. That’s why we must seize this moment to recommit to, and highlight the value of, our public schools and the teachers, counselors, staff and leaders who attend to the intellectual and emotional growth of our young people,” said Crozier.
“This AFT parent survey demonstrates that parents are ready to rebuild the social contract and trust that has been shaken,” said Luis Chavez, LULAC Equity Subcommittee chair. “We need our schools back safely and to support them as we come out of this devastating pandemic, which has awakened us to a new level of appreciation for what educators do for our kids, day-in, and day-out. We are ready, our kids are ready, and we are ready as a country,” said Chavez.
Parents expressed higher levels of satisfaction with the schools serving their children than they did four years ago in previous polling. At the same time, COVID-19 has created new challenges for schools, and parents identify students’ falling behind during the pandemic as the single biggest problem facing schools today. Parents say that the AFT’s policy agenda—including learning recovery, teacher and school flexibility, a focus on the social-emotional health of kids, and summer school, camps and tutoring opportunities—can help students and schools recover.
“The data gleaned from this poll gives clear and reliable insight on how we should equitably and fairly reopen our neighborhood public schools,” said Keron Blair, national director of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools.
“The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools is laser-focused on ensuring that Black and brown parents, students and families have their voices heard and their demands met in the fight forward for a great public education. Data like this helps us in those campaigns for great schools in a post-pandemic world. At the same time, it is not just community-based organizations and unions that should be using this kind of data to inform campaigns. We urge federal, state and local governments to meaningfully engage with Black parents in all conversations about how we move toward reopening our schools.”
Parents’ support for public education is clear. They continue to believe that having strong neighborhood public schools available to all children is extremely important. Their top priority for schools is “ensuring that all children, regardless of background, have the opportunity to succeed.” They also support the AFT’s agenda for reimaging K-12 education and making it even stronger as we move forward—an agenda that includes career and technical education, project-based learning, improved health services in schools, fixing school buildings and reducing class sizes.
Becky Belcore, executive director of NAKASEC, said: “Asian American children and their families have faced challenging—and, at times, hostile—circumstances as they have navigated schooling over the course of the pandemic. As this survey shows, it’s important for educators and advocates to focus on inclusive and thoughtful outreach to inform how we can better support Asian American children and their families, and all communities who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. As we move forward, we are eager to work with partners and across multiracial and multilingual communities to ensure that there are accessible and meaningful ways to respond to the needs of all children and their families, regardless of where we’re born or what language we speak.”
Hart surveyed 1,107 public school parents, including samples of 202 Black parents, 200 Hispanic parents, and 200 Asian American and Pacific Islander parents. The survey was conducted online from April 22 to May 3, 2021. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.