3 things Americans say about how important in-person learning is during COVID

More large districts are going remote as other administrators hope to ride out omicron with new mask mandates.
By: | January 13, 2022

In-person learning appears to be slightly less important for Americans than blocking COVID, a new poll has found.

Some 56% of the more than 2,000 adults surveyed said schools should go remote to prevent exposure to the virus, according to The Harris Poll‘s weekly COVID tracker. The survey, which was conducted from Jan. 7 to 9 as omicron cases began hitting record heights, found that only 44% of adults said keeping students in classrooms was worth the risk of potential COVID exposure.

Most studies continue to show that transmission rates within schools remain very low and that children, especially when vaccinated, are at a lower risk of suffering severe illness from COVID.

Adults with an income below $50,000 annually (63%) were most in favor of returning to virtual instruction. While more than two-thirds of Democrats supported a shift online, only 37% of Republicans did.

A majority of both vaccinated and unvaccinated adults said classrooms should close, though vaccinated adults were somewhat more supportive of shutdowns.

But in a sign that the public is appreciative of the job educators have done during the pandemic, nearly two-thirds said they trusted their schools to respond appropriately to the pandemic. Vaccinated adults, those earning over $100,000 per year and Millennials expressed the most confidence in their schools.

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And here’s how those surveyed responded when asked how schools should handle current COVID conditions:

    1. 41%: Should be remote until the current surge of COVID-19 cases subsides.
    2. 30%: Only switch to remote learning if they do not have adequate staff
    3. 29%: Figure out how to hold in-person classes regardless of staff and student exposure risk.

‘We are out of options’

More large districts are, in fact, going remote, but most administrators are trying to avoid lengthy closures. Oklahoma City Public Schools went remote until January 18 due to “a significant number of our teachers, instructional and support staff and students out across the district due to illness or other circumstances.”

“Even after working to reassign staff at all levels across the district, we have determined that we can no longer adequately sustain a safe and meaningful learning environment for our students,” Superintendent Sean McDaniel said in a message to the community. “This is a manpower issue, and we are simply out of options.”

Many other districts are reimposing mask mandates in hopes of riding out the omicron surge that may already be peaking in parts of the country. Hoover City Schools near Birmingham, Alabama, mandated masks on Wednesday after administrators determined contract tracing become unmanageable.

Some 454 students, or 3.4% of the district, have tested positive in Hoover City’s last seven-day reporting period. District nurses took on the responsibility of contract tracing after other agencies stopped performing the function. “When students rotate classes throughout the day, the number of potential close contacts becomes unmanageable,” the district says on its website. “Until further notice, parents of middle and high school students should assume their child has the potential of being exposed and check their child daily for any possible symptoms.”

While Chicago Public Schools reopened Wednesday after teachers went on strike over COVID precautions, a group of teachers and staff in Connecticut held a “blackout” to raise concerns about safety conditions. The group pressed for schools to have the option to conduct temporary remote instruction.

“We’re not looking for weeks of remote instruction—none of us want to return to that experience. We recognize this as a limited approach, but it needs to be a tool,” Connecticut Education Association President Kate Dias said.

See DA’s closure and mask trackers for more comprehensive lists of how administrators are responding to the current COVID surge.