Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

Driven by worries of spiking coronavirus rates, as well as concerns about the most effective learning environment for students, most parents favor a combination of online learning and reduced in-person instruction.

The majority of American parents disagree with President Donald Trump’s push for in-person classes come fall semester, according to a recent Washington Post-Schar School survey. But the question of safety splintered along racial and partisanship affiliations.

The poll surveyed 1,185 parents with children in K-12 grades and found that only 16% supported full-time in-person class instruction. Driven by worries of spiking coronavirus rates, as well as concerns about the most effective learning environment for students, most parents favor a combination of online learning and reduced in-person instruction. The poll found only a narrow margin of distance between those who supported hybrid education—that is, 44%—and the 39% who prefer fully remote learning. The margin of error was +/- 3 percentage points. 

“They need to be in school but at the same time, I don’t think being inside a tiny little classroom with 30 other kids for eight hours a day is feasible either,” Ali Lewin, 37, of Broward County, Florida, told The Washington Post

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Lewin, whose three children are entering kindergarten, ninth and 12th grades, echoed sentiments of other parents surveyed. More than 7 in 10 respondents said they would be uncomfortable with sending their children to full-occupancy classrooms, and more than 6 in 10 voiced similar concerns about sports activities and riding the bus. Still, half of parents polled said they would be comfortable with half-full classrooms, where students would rotate attendance on a schedule. 

The quality of education in solely remote learning environments has come under scrutiny too. Nearly 7 in 10 worry children will fall behind in their education, and almost 6 in 10 fear their kids will become depressed. Of the parents who anticipate some form of online instruction, 54% expect the quality to be worse than in-person classes, compared with 12% who think it will be better and 34% who expect no difference.

Trump has campaigned aggressively for full-time, in-person schooling, threatening federal funding for schools that opt for remote instruction, and the responses of parents on the question of school safety were largely predictable along party lines. Republicans, whites, and parents of children in private schools were more likely to consider in-person school safe, while the bulk of Democrats, independents, Black and Hispanic parents, and those with children in public schools deemed campuses unsafe. 

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“Whatever [Trump] says, just do the opposite and we’ll be fine,” said Mitchell Williams, 56, a Democrat in Vallejo, California. Williams, who has an eighth grader, fears the coronavirus crisis hasn’t abated enough to reopen schools. “They’re going to be talking and laughing and coughing and sneezing and they’re going to forget all about it and it’s going to spread and they’re going to take it home,” he told The Washington Post. “It’s like being on a cruise ship. It’s going to spread like wildfire.”