Will Students Come Back?

School Hesitancy Among Parents and Their Preferences for COVID-19 Safety Practices in Schools

by Heather L. Schwartz, Melissa Kay Diliberti, David Grant

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Research Questions

  1. Will parents send their children to school in person in fall 2021? Why or why not?
  2. What can schools do to reassure parents about sending their children to in-person schooling?

RAND researchers surveyed 2,015 parents of children age 5–18 in May 2021 about their willingness to send their children to school in person in fall 2021. They also asked parents about their support for various health and safety practices at school, including getting their children tested for coronavirus disease 2019, and whether they would get their children vaccinated if a vaccine were available. The results are intended to inform school districts' and health officials' planning for operating schools in fall 2021.

As of May 2021, 84 percent of parents surveyed planned to send their children to school in person in fall 2021. Black and Hispanic parents are most hesitant about sending their children back for in-person schooling in fall 2021. Two-thirds of parents overall want to keep COVID-19 school safety measures, although subgroups of parents differ. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed planned to vaccinate their children, and another 17 percent were unsure. Rural parents and those who were not vaccinated themselves were the least likely to intend to vaccinate their children.

Key Findings

  • As of May 2021, 84 percent of parents surveyed planned to send their children to school in person in fall 2021, and 12 percent were unsure about in-person schooling.
  • COVID-19 safety concerns are the dominant reasons parents plan for remote instruction in fall 2021, suggesting that parental preference for remote schooling may fade as the pandemic does.
  • Even after accounting for their urban, suburban, or rural locations, Black and Hispanic parents are most hesitant about sending their children back for in-person schooling in fall 2021. About 20 percent of both Black and Hispanic parents are unsure whether they will send their children to school in person in fall 2021.
  • Two-thirds of parents overall want to keep COVID-19 school safety measures, although subgroups of parents differ. Rural parents and white parents are each much more likely to prefer that schools should reduce or discontinue their COVID-19 safety precautions. Black, Hispanic, Asian, and urban parents are each much more likely to prefer to keep them. A heightened percentage of parents who are unsure about sending their children to school in person prefer COVID-19 safety measures than parents overall. Seventy-four percent or more of unsure parents want classroom ventilation, mandatory masking, regular COVID-19 testing of staff and students, and a minimum of three feet between people at school to feel safe.
  • As of May 2021, 52 percent of parents surveyed planned to vaccinate their children, and another 17 percent were unsure. Rural parents and those who were not vaccinated themselves were the least likely to intend to vaccinate their children.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by The Rockefeller Foundation and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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