Polls show less enthusiasm for reopening schools without teacher vaccinations among minority and lower-income communities

New polling has found that some of the communities most affected by COVID-19 are more likely to support waiting for teachers to be vaccinated before reopening schools.

A Yahoo News/YouGov poll published this week found that among Black respondents, 61 percent said schools should reopen only after all teachers have been vaccinated, versus 16 percent who said they should reopen regardless. Among Hispanic respondents, the split was 58 percent to 29 percent. Meanwhile, among white respondents, 45 percent said to wait for teachers to be vaccinated, and 41 percent said schools should reopen sooner, with 14 percent unsure.

The splits were similar on the question “Has the time come for schools in your community to fully reopen for in-person instruction?” Among white respondents, 38 percent replied yes and 37 percent said no. It’s a stark contrast to the replies from Black (19 percent yes, 53 percent no) and Hispanic (30 percent yes, 57 percent no) participants in the poll.

A teacher prepares her classroom before students arrive for school at Freedom Preparatory Academy on February 10, 2021 in Provo, Utah. (George Frey/Getty Images)
A classroom at Freedom Preparatory Academy in Provo, Utah, on Feb. 10. (George Frey/Getty Images)

A Pew Research poll released Wednesday found similar divides. While 59 percent of respondents overall said that schools not currently open for in-person instruction should wait until all teachers are vaccinated, those numbers go even higher when it’s broken down into groups that have been disproportionately affected by the virus: 80 percent of Black respondents, 69 percent of Hispanic respondents and 67 percent of low-income respondents all said to wait, along with 72 percent of Asian respondents.

The demographic groups least likely to support waiting for teacher vaccinations were white and upper income, both clicking in at 48 percent. The responses were also split along party lines, with 79 percent of Democrats saying to wait for vaccinations versus just 34 percent of Republicans. Studies have shown that the school closures have affected poorer communities the most, with experts warning that the closures could expand racial and economic inequality.

Multiple studies have shown that the pandemic has had an outsize impact on certain groups in terms of infections and deaths, including minorities and poorer Americans. A Yale study released in December found that Black and Hispanic children have also borne the brunt of the virus.

Republicans are attempting to make reopening schools a key part of their political message, believing it is an issue that the party can unite around and that will resonate in suburban areas that have become increasingly Democratic. “When you look at the voters that Trump lost in the last election, it was predominantly suburban, educated voters. And they’re reacting very poorly to all this stuff,” former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a potential Republican candidate for president in 2024, told Yahoo News.

“As soon as we started last month, I made a big deal out of the fact that messaging has to be about schools as we go forward,” Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told NBC News. “It’s the teachers’ unions that want to keep the schools closed. Democrats are ignoring the science, and they’re standing with their special-interest donors instead of the students.”

Pacoima Middle School teacher Abigail Abbott, 65, gets her COVID-19 vaccination from Nurse Practitioner Jiyoun Cho, left, as Los Angeles Unified employees received their first dose of the vaccine Wednesday morning. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images).
Abigail Abbott, 65, a teacher at Pacoima Middle School in California, gets a COVID-19 vaccine dose from nurse practitioner Jiyoun Cho. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

While those in favor of immediate reopenings have said that guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs their position, other public health experts have said the issue is much murkier.

A HuffPost/Yahoo News poll in early February found similar racial splits when parents were asked how teachers’ unions — which have generally been fighting for further safety precautions and vaccinations before resuming in-person instruction — were handling the pandemic. Fifty-nine percent of Black parents or guardians of K-12 children approved of the unions, versus 39 percent of white parents or guardians.


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