When and how schools will reopen is just one consideration for decisionmakers: A new poll suggests they should also consider whether teachers and families feel safe returning to buildings closed to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Although 64 percent of respondents to a USA Today/Ipsos Poll said it is “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that schools will reopen this fall, just 46 percent said they would support students and teachers returning before there is a vaccine. Those numbers are very similar for parents of K-12 students who responded and for teachers who participated in a separate survey.
The poll comes as school, district, and state-level leaders wrestle with how and whether to welcome students back to buildings for the 2020-21 school year with social distancing modifications recommended by public health officials, to continue remote learning, or to adopt a hybrid approach. States have started drafting multi-option plans, their implementation dependent on how the virus affects their region over the summer months.
Fifty-nine percent of parent respondents to the USA Today/Ipsos Poll said that, if their child’s school were to reopen and implement social distancing guidelines, they would be “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to pursue at-home learning, like home school or online education. About 7 in 10 said they would likely ask their child to wear a mask at school, and about the same number said it was likely their child would struggle with social distancing at school.
In the poll of K-12 teachers, 18 percent said it would would be “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that they would not return to teaching if their schools reopened with social distancing guidelines. That includes a quarter of respondents over age 55.
Related: Teachers at Higher Risk of COVID-19 Wonder: Should I Even Go Back?
Seventy-eight percent of respondents to the teachers’ poll said they would wear a mask, and 87 percent said they expected to have trouble enforcing social distancing among students. A large majority of teachers, 85 percent, also agreed that they were worried about their students. While 76 percent of teachers agreed that distance learning has caused their students to fall behind, 64 percent agreed that students would “eventually be able to make up any lost ground.”
The polls also asked about various options for reopening schools. Here are the results for parents and the overall public. “Total support” is the total of respondents who said they “strongly support” or “somewhat support” the measure in question.
Here’s how teachers responded to the same questions.
Public health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s chief epidemiologist, have said some level of social distancing and mitigation efforts will be necessary in schools in order for them to reopen. And, without a vaccine on the immediate horizon, public officials will need to commit to aggressive testing and tracing of cases of the virus to keep it contained and avoid spikes in cases that could overwhelm the health-care system, Fauci told a Senate committee recently.
Leaders have recognized that reopening schools is key to the nation’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis, but they haven’t determined exactly how to do it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released recommendations last week that suggested dramatic changes to school operations, including use of masks, closure of common spaces, restricting students to small cohorts, regular temperature checks, and operating school buses at half capacity.
But it remains to be seen how much schools will abide by those guidelines, especially in the wake of state budget cuts that threaten their staffing and operations.