School & District Management From Our Research Center

Educators’ Support for COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates Is Rising Dramatically

By Holly Kurtz — September 16, 2021 4 min read
Mariah Vaughn, a 15-year-old Highland Park student, prepares to receive a COVID-19 vaccine during the vaccine clinic at Topeka High School on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.
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The Delta variant is causing big shifts in educators’ opinions about vaccine mandates.

Though most district leaders, principals, and teachers report their schools are not requiring vaccines for students 12 and older right now, support for these requirements is increasing dramatically. Nearly 60 percent of educators are now saying students who are old enough to receive COVID-19 vaccines should be required to show proof they got the shot to enter school buildings. That’s up from 27 percent when the EdWeek Research Center last asked educators about vaccine requirements in June.

Most educators also support vaccine requirements for staff (63 percent). Unlike this most recent survey, the June survey asked educators whether they supported vaccines for multiple categories of employees rather than simply asking if staff should be vaccinated. Back then, support for staff vaccines ranged from 32 percent (in support of mandates for district leaders) to 35 percent (in support of teacher vaccination requirements).

These are some of the key findings from the most recent monthly survey by the EdWeek Research Center. This latest survey was administered Aug. 25 to Sept. 8 to a nationally representative sample of 1,241 educators.

Despite overall support for vaccine mandates, most educators report no requirements

Even though educator vaccination rates are hovering around 86 percent, most school and district leaders say vaccines are still not required of employees (64 percent). Most also say vaccines are not required of students old enough to receive them (79 percent).

When it comes to employee vaccine requirements in particular, regional variation is dramatic, with 86 percent of school and district leaders in the Midwest saying vaccines won’t be required of employees, compared with 38 percent in the West, 58 percent in the Northeast, and 76 percent in the South.

Eighty-four percent of the school and district leaders who do require vaccines say that unvaccinated employees can work for them but must participate in ongoing COVID-19 testing. The remaining 16 percent say people who are unvaccinated cannot work for their district or school.

Most educators say they are satisfied with COVID-19 safety precautions

Even though the Delta variant is driving COVID-19 infection rates back up and rising numbers of children are getting sick and being hospitalized, nearly three-quarters of district leaders, principals, and teachers (74 percent) say their district or school is or will be taking the right COVID-related safety precautions to keep everyone healthy and safe this school year.

Just 17 percent perceive that their district has gone overboard with COVID-related health and safety precautions, leading to unnecessary problems and expenses. Eighty-three percent say their district has not gone overboard.

However, district policies on testing, masks, and vaccinations are anything but uniform, with approaches varying considerably by region.

Just over half of school and district leaders (54 percent) say that masks are required for employees and/or students. That share ranges from 79 percent in the Northeast to 27 percent in the Midwest.

Although most administrators say they have them, mask mandates have declined in popularity among COVID-weary district leaders, principals, and teachers. Support hovers just over 70 percent, down from close to 90 percent last school year.

In addition to maintaining mask mandates, just under half of school and district leaders (48 percent) say they are testing students and/or staff for COVID-19. That’s nearly the same share that reported some sort of testing program when the EdWeek Research Center last asked about it in April (45 percent).

The share of leaders testing for the virus this school year varies significantly by region, ranging from 70 percent in the Western United States to 29 percent in the Midwest.

Teachers more likely than administrators to say remote learning ended too early

When it comes to the amount of remote learning that has been offered during the pandemic, schools have taken heat for providing too much or too little.

However, the majority of district leaders, principals, and teachers (52 percent) say their districts or schools have provided just the right amount of remote learning. The remainder is a fairly even split between those who say there’s been too little remote learning (22 percent) and those who say there’s been too much (27 percent).

Teachers are roughly twice as likely as principals and district leaders to say there’s been too little remote learning (26 percent versus 12 percent).

Similarly, 41 percent of teachers—compared with 24 percent of administrators—perceive that, at some point, their district or school put people at risk or will be putting people at risk by permitting in-person learning when it was dangerous to do so.

Currently, 77 percent of school and district leaders say they are only offering in-person learning options right now, the same share as the last time the EdWeek Research Center asked about this topic a month earlier. The remainder are providing both in-person and remote options, with virtually no one reporting full-time remote instruction. The share of principals and district leaders reporting in-person-only instruction varies significantly by location, demographics, and district size.

A version of this article appeared in the September 29, 2021 edition of Education Week as Educators’ Support for COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates Is Rising Dramatically

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