Most Americans think it is unsafe to reopen schools: Poll

Just 26 percent of American adults said they thought it was safe for schools in their community to bring students back.

Officials at more than 13,000 US school districts are weighing options for bringing students back to school [LM Otero/AP Photo]

Only one in four Americans think it is safe for public schools to reopen as US coronavirus cases climb, and four in 10 parents said they would likely keep their children home if classes resume, a new Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll shows.

The July 14-15 national online poll was conducted as the country’s 13,000 school districts grapple with how to safely resume instruction after closing earlier in the year as infections spread. The results suggest President Donald Trump’s demand to fully reopen schools is at odds with how most Americans feel.

Just 26 percent of American adults said they thought it was safe for schools in their community to bring students back. Another 55 percent felt they were not safe, and 19 percent were not sure.

The response was split along party lines: Half of Republicans said they thought schools were safe, compared with only one in 10 Democrats.

Remote learning
Social distancing dividers for students in a classroom at St Benedict School, near Los Angeles, California, US [Lucy Nicholson/Reuters] 

Among respondents with school-age children, about four in 10 said it was unlikely that they would send them to school if in-person teaching resumes. Another five in 10 said they would send their kids to school, and the rest said they were unsure.

“I’ve had a migraine every day for the past month, just with the stress and fear of all of this,” said Tameka Dumas, 47, a mother of two from Grenada, Mississippi.

Dumas will keep her 16-year-old son home to take online classes when his school reopens in August, deciding that it is better to protect him from a virus that already has infected her uncle and killed one of her friends.

“I told him that I hate to keep him from his friends, but at the rate of infection, it’s just for the best,” she said.

Trump recently has made reopening public schools a focus of his re-election campaign, in part to court suburban voters, especially women, who are increasingly unhappy with him.

The Republican president has said school districts must offer a full schedule of classes, and he threatened to cut funding from schools that do not follow through.

“Medical and education experts agree that children learn best through in-person education, and it’s also true that parents need the certainty of schools reopening so they can return to work,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said. “We must reopen schools and the economy and do it safely.”

The poll found that only three in 10 white women, including only two in 10 suburban white women, felt schools are safe to reopen. More than eight out of 10 white women said they are still concerned about the spread of the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 138,000 lives in the United States and has continued a rapid spread throughout much of the country.

White women are key for Trump’s re-election bid. He won that demographic by 13 percentage points in the 2016 election, and they are also one of the subgroups most likely to vote.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who for months has led Trump in national polls, including a 10-point advantage among registered voters in the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, has called for a more cautious approach to reopening schools.

Heeding the experts

Away from the campaign trail, Americans said they are largely relying on guidance from public health experts on when and how schools should open, the Reuters/Ipsos survey found.

Asked who should determine when schools reopen in their community, 40 percent said they would leave the decision to public health experts, while 17 percent said it should be up to the school districts and 13 percent said their state’s governor should decide. Only 5 percent said they would leave it to the federal government.

Cleaning and disinfection practices in schools are highlighted in the new CDC guidelines [AP Photo/LM Otero] 

When classes resume, only 20 percent said students should return for the full school calendar. Another 37 percent felt students should begin an online-only curriculum, and 43 percent said students should follow a hybrid schedule that includes some time in the classroom and some instruction online.

“They should reopen,” said Rick Gardner, 48, of Republic, Missouri, who wants to send his 16-year-old daughter to a full high school schedule when the new school year begins. Gardner, a security officer at his local airport, said he thinks the public’s concern about the coronavirus is overplayed.

“I’m around hundreds of people all day, and I don’t know one person who’s gotten the disease,” he said.

Source: Reuters