My wife and I were driving across town the other day discussing how our children’s school had released a plan a few weeks earlier to open five days a week in the fall. It included much of what we expected: social distancing, temperature checks each morning, and children staying with only a select group of students.
However, in the original plan, face coverings were required for teachers, and optional for students, and that one rule gave both of us a lot of pause. However, we live in Oregon, and last week Governor Brown issued a mandate that all children will be required to wear face coverings in the fall, and Mel and I suddenly felt a little better about schools opening. That was, until we started seeing the arguments from parents flood the Facebook group for our children’s school.
Mel was scrolling through the comments from parents as we drove. Many said they would fight for their children not to wear a mask in the fall, while also posting links and YouTube videos about the dangers of face coverings for children, every source questionable. Out of frustration, Mel said, “I just wish they would do distance education again next year. There’s no way everyone is going to follow these guidelines. I don’t care how bad it sucks for us.”
I couldn’t help but agree with her.
Yes, distance learning last spring was a mess. I will be the first to admit that. But the thought of my children getting infected and then spreading it into our home, or to one of their teachers, weighed heavily on my wife and me — and according to two recent surveys, most parents feel the same.
National polls of parents by the Kaiser Family Foundation and ParentsTogether, an advocacy group, found that the majority of parents, even with the economic impact and lack of childcare options, seem to support keeping schools closed for now.
The Kaiser Family Foundation poll focused on school reopening. It polled a pretty diverse sample of 377 parents. What it found was that 63% of these parents felt it would be better to open schools later to minimize coronavirus infection risk. In contrast, only 32% said it’s better to open schools sooner so parents can work and kids can get access to much-needed services. Parents of color were even more hesitant than white parents to reopen schools; however, they were also more worried about negative impacts on their kids from schools remaining closed, such as falling behind academically.
The ParentsTogether poll surveyed more than 1,200 parents about reopening and came to pretty similar conclusions. 59% agreed that “schools should remain closed until they are certain there is no health risk, even if it means students fall farther behind,” while only 19% agreed that “schools should reopen as soon as possible so students don’t fall too far behind.” But the finding I found most interesting, and I think falls in line with many of the parents I’ve spoken with personally, was that 45% of respondents said they were “not planning” or were “somewhat unlikely” to send their children back to school, even if it did open.
I have to assume that many of these parents are in the same situation as my wife and me. Even with schools reopening, it seems almost impossible to do it safely. Particularly when you consider the arguments happening in most school online groups between school administrators and government officials, and mask deniers and COVID-19 conspiracy theorists. I can’t speak for every school in the nation, but what I will say is that no matter what our school does to provide a safe reopening, there will be parents ready to fight those regulations, and find reasons their children do not need to take safety precautions, placing the rest of the children and staff at risk.
Going back to the ParentsTogether survey, they asked their respondents if they lost income and child care due to school closures, and 63% answered “yes.” Additionally, more than 40% of all parents surveyed also said they lost income specifically due to new child care responsibilities when schools and daycares closed. But even with those stark realities many families faced in the spring, and many are still facing, the majority of parents would rather schools stay closed so their children can stay safe.
I don’t think anyone with children will see these findings as a shocker. The pandemic has been stressful all around for parents, and much of that stress has revolved around disruptions to our education system. My wife and I are both educators, and last spring we realized that educating our own children was far tougher than anything we’d ever experienced in our professions.
Having schools closed is a hardship — none of us will dispute that. But clearly, most parents feel that they’d rather shoulder that burden than risk the lives of their children and their children’s teachers on the front lines of a pandemic.