New Poll Shows Many Parents and Teachers Are Not Returning To School This Fall, No Matter What

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With school districts across America contemplating whether to reopen in the fall and if so, how exactly to do that while safeguarding children and staff, a surprising number of parents and teachers have already decided not to return — at least not until a vaccine becomes widely available. 

According to a new poll by USA TODAY and Ipsos, nearly 60 percent of parents say they’re likely to continue pursuing at-home learning options even if schools reopen. Those with lower household incomes reported being even more interested in that option than their higher-income counterparts. Racial minorities also reported being more open to that idea than whites. 

But kids and parents aren’t the only ones who have found themselves in unfamiliar territory. Teachers, too, were thrust into virtual learning, with many of them having little to no experience in how to carry out their duties without face-to-face contact. Needless to say, it’s been a major learning experience, and teachers have had to literally figure things out on the job.

As a result, many teachers report feeling unsure about returning to school in the fall, and almost 20 percent said they’re not likely to return at all. Among those 55 and older with the most experience, that number jumps to 25 percent. 

“As our world has changed, almost everything we do has changed, including how we view and approach education,” Cliff Young, president of Ipsos, told USA Today. “Though Americans are optimistic about a return to in-person learning, there is angst among teachers, parents, and America at large about how to keep our schools safe if the virus isn’t fully contained.”

Tech Woes

A whopping 83 percent of the teachers polled said they’re having a hard time doing their job now that online learning is widespread, with the newest teachers who’ve been working five years or less saying they’re struggling most. That’s not exactly comforting for parents, but the problems don’t end there. Teachers ages 55 and up also reported difficulty with technology, with 1 in 4 saying it hasn’t been easy to use the required tech to accomplish distance learning. 

Students, too, are feeling the effects of the abrupt change— and it shows in their grades. Three-quarters of teachers say many kids are falling behind in their classwork as a result of the abrupt switch to distance learning, though most feel confident that students will be able to catch up. By contrast, only a little less than 50 percent of parents polled said the same thing.

Luckily only 3 percent of parents said their kids don’t have reliable internet at home. However, families with household incomes under $50,0000 are much more likely to face tech hurdles. Nearly 1 in 5 — about 20 percent — said their kids lack the software and equipment necessary for online learning.

Is Combo Learning the Future?

The idea of splitting up the school week so that two to three days are conducted in person and the rest are online has been circulating among many school districts. The poll found that about two-thirds of both teachers and parents think that plan might be ideal, with the caveat that medically high-risk teachers (and presumably students) would have the option to choose online learning full time without penalty.

While everyone agrees that social distancing will prove challenging with kids, especially younger ones, most parents and teachers agree that staff and students should wear masks if they resume in-person classes.

Of course, the biggest wildcard in all of this is the issue of vaccines. One Miami mom to a third-grader and first-grader told us she’s already decided to have her children continue online learning next fall, regardless of whether schools reopen or not. “Their grandparents live with us, so we have to be extra careful until a vaccine is available,” she said. 

She’s not alone. About 4 in 10 parents polled say they don’t think it’s a good idea for kids to go back before there is a coronavirus vaccine. The problem, of course, is that experts agree a vaccine won’t likely be available until the end of the year or perhaps the beginning of next year, but it’s unclear when it would be widely available. 

For now, many parents, students, and teachers remain in limbo waiting out this pandemic. 

If you’re thinking of making the switch to online learning more permanent,  here’s everything you need to know to start homeschooling.

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.