Concerns about Reopening Schools Loom Large

With a new academic year on the horizon, 46% of Americans believe schools need major modifications to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, and another 31% think they shouldn’t reopen for in-person learning at all.

Published: July 22, 2020

Few Americans want to see their local schools reopen for in-person instruction as usual or even with minor adjustments, according to a survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research July 16-20, 2020. A majority of Americans are concerned that reopening schools this fall for in-person learning will lead to a surge in new coronavirus infections.

Eight percent of Americans say their local K-12 schools should open for in-person instruction as usual and 14% think schools can reopen with minor adjustments. The public is far more likely to believe major adjustments are needed (46%) or that schools shouldn’t open at all (31%). While parents of school-age children are just as reticent as other Americans about sending children back to the classroom, Republicans are more positive about reopening schools than Democrats. 

Views are similar when it comes to reopening daycares and preschools and universities. Just like attitudes toward K-12 reopenings, views differ based on party affiliation. For example, Democrats are three times more likely than Republicans to believe daycares and preschools should not open at all (46% vs. 15%).

In order to reopen K-12 schools, the public considers a number of modifications as essential for in-person instruction.  Daily disinfection of the school, mask requirements, temperature checks, rearranging  of classrooms to create six-foot distances between students, and a combination of in-person and virtual learning to reduce the number of students in the building at any one time are considered essential measures by a majority.  However few think canceled extracurricular activities or closed cafeterias are as crucial. Democrats tend to be more supportive of making these adjustments to schools than Republicans.  For example, 82% of Democrats approve of rearranged classrooms, compared with 41% of Republicans.  

A majority of adults are concerned that sending students back to school would cause a surge in new COVID-19 infections in their community.  Democrats are much more concerned than Republicans. 

Along with safety concerns around reopening, a majority of parents also worry about potential academic impacts of the virus for their children. Fifty-five percent of parents are concerned about their children falling behind academically.  Fewer worry about having to deal with other responsibilities, finding childcare, or their child losing other school services such as counseling or school lunches. 

Sixty-three percent of Americans disapprove of how Trump is handling education, while 36% approve.  There are significant partisan differences: less than 10% Democrats approve along with more than 70% of Republicans. 

The nationwide poll was conducted July 16-20, 2020 using the AmeriSpeak® Panel, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones were conducted with 1,057 adults. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4.3 percentage points.

AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (July, 2020). “Concerns about School Reopenings Loom Large.” [https://apnorc.org/projects/concerns-about-school-re-openings-loom-large]

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