Jan 12, 2022 - Health

Poll: Americans value "health and safety" over in-person learning

Share who say schools should move to remote learning to prevent COVID-19 exposure
Data: Harris Poll; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

More than half of Americans say that it's more important to protect the health and safety of teachers and students by moving to remote learning to avoid COVID exposure than to keep schools open for in-person learning, according to a new Harris Poll provided exclusively to Axios.

Driving the news: How to handle in-person learning amid yet another surge of cases is again the subject of intense debate following the Chicago Teacher's Union refusal to return to in-person classes as Omicron cases surged.

  • Chicago Public Schools will resume classes today, following a tentative agreement reached between the union and the school district, Axios Chicago reports. The plan also includes conditions under which a school would return to remote learning.

What they found: Of more than 2,000 adults polled between Jan. 7–9, 56% of respondents said protecting the health and safety of teachers and students is more important.

  • Meanwhile, 44% said it's more important to have schools open for in-person learning to avoid further interrupting students' education, the Harris polling found.
  • More than six in 10 Gen Z, millennial and Gen X respondents chose health and safety over in-person learning, as did 62% of parents with children younger than 18. Only 48% of boomers — or respondents 57 and older — said the same.
  • Lower-income respondents were more likely to choose health and safety over remote learning than higher-income respondents. Only 37% of GOP respondents chose health and safety, compared with 57% of independents and 70% of Democrats.
  • Respondents of color were also more likely to prioritize health and safety than white respondents, although a majority of all races and ethnicities did so.

The big picture: There's no doubt that 2020's in-person learning shutdowns were bad for kids, particularly those from lower-income households or families of color.

  • On the other hand, while it's rare for kids to get severe COVID cases, it does happen. Kids can also spread the virus to their potentially-vulnerable caregivers, and some teachers and school staff are at high risk.
  • Public health experts say that schools can safely operate in person as long as basic precautions — including masking, testing, and good ventilation, as well as widespread vaccination — are being followed.

The bottom line: Remote learning may not be the absolute political loser that Democrats fear it is, but it polls better among groups that are more likely to already support them.

  • And while this poll presented binary options, risk tolerance exists along a spectrum. That means what teachers or school districts regard as a high-risk situation may not be considered one worthy of remote learning by parents.

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