New Statewide Poll: California Parents and Voters Say Protecting the Health of Students, Educators and Families Top Factor in Reopening Local Schools

BURLINGAME — A new statewide poll reveals California parents and voters are most concerned for the health of students, educators, and families in reopening public schools for in-person instruction. Vast majorities say the spread of COVID-19 is still a serious problem in the state and believe schools should only be allowed to reopen if they have made major changes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including daily sanitizing, proper ventilation systems, reduced class sizes, testing programs and required face masks. Although more than 215,000 Americans have died from coronavirus, most respondents fear the worst of the virus is yet to come. The poll, conducted in September by HART RESEARCH ASSOCIATES among 1,257 voters and 527 public school parents, reveals, among other findings:

  • A clear majority think the coronavirus is still a serious problem in California with a slight majority worried that the worst may still be ahead of us. 79% say it is serious with only 21% believing it is “pretty well under control.” 54% believe the worst is yet to come.
  • Very few voters or parents support schools returning yet to fully in-person learning. 89% say that schools should remain in either remote learning or use a hybrid model. A slight majority (51%) say schools should stay closed and use remote learning only. Only 11% say schools should return to full in-person instruction at this time.
  • A clear majority of parents and voters think decisions on reopening schools should be driven primarily by the safety of students, staff, and families. Both voters and parents feel strongly about this, with 81% and 79% believing that protecting the health of students, school employees and families should be the first or second factor in regarding reopening. The next most frequently selected considerations is avoiding additional spread of coronavirus in the community (voters 59%, parents 53%). Both of those factors far paced concerns regarding allowing working parents to return to jobs so we can reopen the economy (voters 20%, parents 23%).
  • Despite some concerns about at-home learning, the overwhelming majority strongly support the decision to close all public schools last March. 84% of voters (81% of parents) approve that decision, with 62% strongly supporting it. On the question of distance learning last spring, 48% of parents said it worked well, 31% okay and 21% not well. 42% of parents said having kids at home was not a problem, with 31% saying it was somewhat problematic, and only 27% saying it was a big problem.
  • Voters and parents clearly believe additional funding is needed to help schools address the impacts of the Coronavirus. 80% of voters and 79% of parents say more money needs to be invested in schools to deal with the crisis.
  • Parents and voters trust local teachers second only to Dr. Anthony Fauci when it comes to decisions on whether, how, and when schools should open.
  • There is solid approval (88%) for California educators’ demand for testing and contact tracing.

The poll also revealed serious and ongoing concerns about individuals or family members catching the coronavirus, as well as worries about reopening the economy too quickly. More than 60 percent of parents say they are not comfortable sending their children to school right now.

“This research clearly shows that safety is the first, second and third priority for California voters and parents when they think about reopening schools for in-person instruction,” said Geoff Garin, President of Hart Research Associates. “Parents prioritize health and safety over any concerns with distance learning and reopening the economy.”

All along educators have been calling for schools not to open until it is safe and have been encouraging state leaders to follow the science. Testing and contact tracing is also necessary and must be in place to ensure safety in schools.

“It is more than common sense to want to keep our students and each other safe in our schools. As educators, we desperately miss our students and being with them in our classrooms, but we also care more about their safety and that of their family members at home. The findings of the poll reflect the feedback we’ve received from parents and educators. This virus will not be rushed, and our schools must have adequate resources to put a number of safety provisions in place before districts can even think about reopening safely. Unfortunately, with trigger cuts and a lack of federal funding, we have a way to go before we can get back into schools physically.”

– CTA President E. Toby Boyd

Dr. Robert Harrison, Clinical Professor at UC San Francisco, and Specialist in Occupational Medicine, believes educators and staff must have strong layers of protection to reduce the risk of workplace COVID-19 infection.

“Along with having robust testing programs that are coordinated with educators and parents, having adequate ventilation systems in place is one of the most important steps schools can take to help ensure student and staff safety,” said Dr. Harrison. “Schools need to increase the flow of outdoor air and ensure HVAC systems operate properly with effective ventilation rates, MERV-13 or higher filters, and portable HEPA air cleaners in every classroom. As an occupational medicine physician who treats and prevents occupational infections, all these layers of protection for students, teachers and staff in schools are essential.”

Educators in Manteca started the school year with several cases of infected school employees that quickly spread to others, and still the district does not have the safety measures in place to reopen physically in November as planned.

“In our district, we still don’t HVAC units to properly ventilate classrooms, appropriate PPE, and no mechanism for contact tracing – some of the basic elements needed for a healthy and safe return to school. The district’s mechanism for PPE was giving every educator a $50 gift card to buy our own supplies; that is barely enough for a week and being expected to protect our students from a deadly virus is something we are not, and frankly anyone who is not an expert, trained to do,” said Ken Johnson, President of the Manteca Educators’ Association (MEA). “If we want to prepare schools to reopen during this pandemic, we need additional funding, so the choice does not have to be between safety and technology. We could have it all, and our students deserve that protection and investment.”

October 15 is the day for trigger cuts and funding deferrals, as approved in the state budget last July. Absent federal relief funds, the state budget makes more than $12.5 billion in funding deferrals for K-14 education – the single largest one-year, funding deferrals in the history of California. The federal government would have had to pass legislation by October 15, 2020 providing at least $14 billion in funding to the state.

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