Survey finds shifting comfortability with in-person learning

The gap between white parents and Black and Hispanic parents in their comfortability with a return to in-person is narrowing slightly, according to a RAND Corporation survey released Aug. 18.

The report, which details parents’ responses concerning school hesitancy and preferences for school COVID-19 safety practices for the 2021–22 academic year, shows the overall percentage of parents who planned to send their children to school in-person this fall rose from 84 percent in May to 89 percent in July. Though the tides are slowly shifting, gaps remain among white parents (while 94 percent planned to send their children back to school in-person as of July) and Black and Hispanic parents (82 percent and 83 percent respectively planned to do the same).

“To feel safe sending their children to school in-person, most parents — especially those still unsure about in-person schooling — want classroom ventilation, teachers to be vaccinated, and social distancing in schools, in that order,” Heather Schwartz, director of the Pre-K to 12 educational systems program at RAND and coauthor of the report, said in a statement. “School principals are the source that the greatest number of parents trust for information about school safety practices.”

RAND conducted the survey between July 16–29 as the delta variant was greatly increasing the number of COVID-19 cases nationally.

Researchers found that COVID-19-related health concerns remained the top reasons for parents not sending their children to school in person this fall — even more so than racial discrimination, bullying, academics or concerns about schools teaching critical race theory. Overall, 61 percent of parents wished to know more about which COVID-19 safety measures their child’s school is enacting for the fall, though just 27 percent said they already knew in detail which specific COVID-19 safety measures their child’s school will have in place. A school staff member, particularly principals, were named the most trusted source about school safety measures by 61 percent of families.

At least two-thirds of Black, Hispanic and Asian parents surveyed reported needing each of the following practices in place to feel safe sending their children to school in person: good ventilation in classrooms, vaccinated teachers, social distancing, mandatory masking and regular COVID-19 testing. Significantly fewer white parents surveyed needed these practices in place to feel safe. Those who were unsure about sending their children to school in-person at the time of the survey especially wanted these safety practices in place, and more.

Fewer parents surveyed supported vaccination and mandatory testing for their children, despite research repeatedly showing benefits of both in keeping schools open. Just 51 percent of parents supported voluntary, free weekly COVID-19 testing at school, and largely didn’t want their children tested because the test was physically uncomfortable for children. That said, 75 percent of parents supported COVID-19 testing if their child showed symptoms.

Meanwhile, 57 percent of parents planned to get their child vaccinated as of July 2021 — a finding split drastically along lines of vaccination status among parents themselves. Seventy-nine percent of vaccinated parents planned to do so, compared to just 10 percent of unvaccinated parents. Parents whose children were under 12 years old, and thus too young to be vaccinated, were as likely to plan to send them to school in person as were parents with children over 12.