Parents divided over the coming school year
Race and gender play major roles in shaping attitudes
PARENTS ACROSS MASSACHUSETTS are sharply divided along racial lines on how they want the next school year to unfold and whether schools have the ability to operate safely, according to a new poll by the MassINC Polling Group.
The questions on reopening were part of a larger statewide survey sponsored by The Barr Foundation and Boston Foundation conducted June 4-19, 2020. The survey featured 1,502 interviews with parents statewide, including oversamples of black, Latino, and Asian parents. Links to the topline and crosstabs are at the end of this story.
Overall, 64 percent of K-12 parents statewide are very or somewhat confident schools would be able to prevent the spread of coronavirus, while 32 percent say they are not too confident or not at all confident. Among black parents, just 48 percent are very or somewhat confident, while 44 percent of Latino parents say the same. White parents (69 percent) and Asian parents (64 percent) expressed higher confidence levels.
The oversamples of black, Latino, and Asian parents indicated large gender and income differences on schools reopening among black and Latino parents. Among black women (35 percent) and Latino women (32 percent), confidence in a safe reopening is very low, while black men (68 percent) and Latino men (62 percent) express far more confidence. Among white residents, there is no difference in confidence between men and women (both around 70 percent).
Overall, 55 percent of parents statewide would prefer to see schools reopen with a modified schedule, while 31 percent say remote learning should continue until a normal schedule is possible. Once again, digging into this split finds stark differences by race, income, and geography.
Among white parents, 61 percent would prefer a modified schedule compared to just 26 percent who say distance learning should continue until a normal schedule can resume. Asian parents also prefer a modified schedule by a 51-29 margin. But black (45 percent) and Latino (36 percent) parents are much less likely to prefer a modified schedule.
Skepticism about a modified reopening is also widespread in the state’s Gateway Cities, where parents are split down the middle on the issue. A larger share of black and Latino residents live in Gateway Cities, and the cities also contain some of the most concentrated poverty in the state. Black and Latino residents with incomes under $75,000 are far more likely to express skepticism and less likely to support a modified reopening compared to black and Latino parents with higher income levels.
Some of these differences likely stem from direct personal and household experiences with COVID. Our earlier polling found 19 percent of black and Latino residents said someone in the household had experienced COVID symptoms, compared to 6 percent of white residents. Acute levels of economic distress widened these gaps still further. Parents in groups with more exposure to COVID are less likely to express confidence in schools’ reopening plans.
Understanding these differences by race, geography, and income are particularly important because they will impact some schools more than others. In wealthier school districts, enough parents may be confident enough to allow for reopening. In schools in lower income areas, where support for modified schedules is lower and most are not confident in school safety, reopening plans could encounter very strong skepticism and pushback.
Steve Koczela is the president and Maeve Duggan is the research director at the MassINC Polling Group.