Families & the Community

Survey: Even With Delta Worries, Vast Majority of Parents Plan for In-Person Learning

By Ileana Najarro — August 18, 2021 5 min read
Tequarra Holligan, right, hugs her son Terry Martin, 7, as he waits to check in, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, during the first day of school at Washington Elementary School in Riviera Beach, Fla.
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Even amid concerns about the COVID-19 Delta variant, the vast majority of parents plan to send their children back to school in-person this fall—though Black and Hispanic parents are still less inclined to do so than white and Asian parents, according to new survey data from the RAND Corporation.

The nationally representative survey of about 3,100 parents of children ages 5 to 18 was completed between July 16 and July 29. It was intended to update results from a similar survey done in May, this time taking into account the Delta variant, said Heather Schwartz, a RAND researcher.

The results showed that in July, 89 percent of parents planned to send their children to school in-person, up from 84 percent in May.

The school reopening landscape has changed quickly, even since the survey was administered, as Delta has become the dominant variant and COVID-19 case numbers have risen, including in children.

“It’s possible that these preferences will change and parents will decide to maybe go hybrid or go fully remote because of Delta,” Schwartz said. “But nevertheless, I think the survey is showing that parents really do value in-person schooling.”

The survey shows a continued racial gap in preferences. For instance, 82 percent of Black parents planned for in-person schooling this fall compared to 94 percent of white parents. Yet that gap has shrunk since May, when 72 percent of Black parents planned for in-person vs. 90 percent of white parents.

That shrinkage is likely due, Schwartz said, to the top reasons parents had for sending children back to brick-and-mortar schools: Most parents said they wanted in-person school because their child does better academically and socially in such a setting and/or because their child wanted to attend in-person.

So even as parents of color expressed safety concerns in the survey, Schwartz said, it seems many believe the benefits of in-person instruction outweigh their continued concerns.

Parents like Tasha Strong are hoping their children will be fine this year.

Strong’s 16-year-old daughter, a student in New Jersey’s Newark public schools, didn’t want to attend in-person last year when her school offered a hybrid model of some days in-person, some days online. But Strong said her daughter seems to be opening up more to the idea of going back in person, especially as she’s started to see her friends again.

Strong would prefer having her daughter attend under a hybrid model this year so she can be eased back into the physical school building. But New Jersey requires schools to provide full-time in-person learning for this school year.

Still, while concerns of COVID-19’s spread remain, Strong is trying not to think about it too much, especially as safety measures can be taken.

“I’m one of those people that I try to look on the bright side of everything and so I’m trying not to be too concerned,” Strong said.

Black and Hispanic parents are especially concerned about safety

For those not wanting to or unsure about sending their children back in-person, the top reasons were COVID-19–related health concerns, such as their child contracting the virus at school and falling ill or transmitting it, the RAND survey found.

“Black and Hispanic parents especially, as conveyed through several questions, have strong concerns about health and safety,” Schwartz said.

About two-thirds or more of Black, Hispanic, and Asian parents indicated they needed a combination of practices like ventilation in classrooms, teachers being vaccinated, social distancing, mandatory masking, and regular COVID-19 testing to feel safe about in-person learning. Substantially fewer white parents felt the same.

Only a little more than 30 percent of children ages 12 to 15 have been fully vaccinated in the U.S. as of Aug. 15 per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children younger than 12 are still not eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.

Paul Imhoff, superintendent of Upper Arlington Schools in Ohio and the 2021-22 president of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, said different levels of safety measures are happening in schools nationwide.

“I do believe schools across the country are all doing their best to put in place as many [mitigation efforts] as are feasible,” he added.

Yet the survey found only 27 percent of parents said they knew in detail which specific COVID-19 safety measures their child’s school will have in place. And 60 percent wanted to know more about such actions.

Bianca Betts in Atlanta, Ga., wants more information on quarantine policies.

Betts wanted to keep her 11-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter in virtual learning this year, but her job called her back in-person.

The first couple weeks in Atlanta public schools were going fine—until Monday.

Her son called her from school sounding scared. “Mom, they told me I’ve come in contact with someone with COVID and you have to come and pick me up,” the 6th grader told her.

She learned he had to be quarantined at home, as detailed in a letter posted online, and that he would access his class work on Google Classroom and wait to receive help rather than getting help in real-time, Betts said.

“By the time I made it to get to him, I had a whole headache, because now it’s a stress headache, because I’m panicking now,” she said.

Atlanta public schools has a universal mask-wearing protocol for all students and employees while learning and working indoors, and the district is following physical distancing guidelines being advised by federal, state and local health agencies in addition to cleaning and sanitation efforts, said Seth Coleman, a district spokesperson. The district has provided these guidelines for quarantining.

Betts also has 4-year-old twins and she’s only gotten her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. She’s worried about the virus spreading at home and wishes there were a better plan in place for when cases pop up at school.

“I’m feeling like, I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do because at this point, I’m scared to send my children back to school,” she said.

Sandra Guynn, in Indianapolis, knew her 6-year-old son would be attending 1st grade virtually from the end of kindergarten.

Her son has a compromised immune system and she didn’t want any exposure in school. So this month he began at Paramount Online Academy, the first standalone online school of the Paramount Schools of Excellence charter network in Indianapolis.

“My son, he’s a very social people person and it broke my heart that we had to do virtual, but I’m lucky that he took to it so quickly,” she said.

“Right now, you’ve got COVID, you’ve got the Delta variant, I’ve heard of a Lambda variant, it’s too risky right now,” she said.

She feels grateful that she has a virtual option for her son this year, and hopes to eventually be able to send him to school in person.

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