Poll: More Americans now worried about kids falling behind academically than risk of COVID from in-class instruction

Not a momentous change numerically, but maybe an important one politically. Via Pew:

About six-in-ten Americans (61%) now say K-12 schools that are not currently open for any in-person instruction should give a lot of consideration to the possibility that students will fall behind academically when deciding whether to reopen. In July 2020, 48% said this should be given a lot of consideration as schools made decisions about whether to open for in-person instruction in the fall. The shares saying schools should give a lot of consideration to the risk to teachers (48%) or students (45%) of getting or spreading the coronavirus are both down from about six-in-ten who said in July that each should be a major factor in decisions about reopening.

One would think those numbers will only grow over the coming months, as students fall further behind and parents grow more exasperated at the possibility that in-class instruction won’t resume by this coming fall — despite the fact that we’ll be 18 months on from the start of the pandemic at that point and vaccines should be widely available. And if you think that possibility is remote, think again:

New York State PTA Executive Director Kyle Belokopitsky, in an interview, said a full return to normal may not be until September of 2022.

“We’re still not going to have a child vaccine, and I think it’s very positive teachers were in that 1a, 1b category,” she said. “But it’s still hard to book a vaccine appointment. We’re still limited on vaccines.”

If you’re a parent in New York with the wherewithal to relocate, that’s your cue to get cracking. Neither Biden, Cuomo, nor de Blasio are going to lay down the law to special interests like the teachers unions that want maximal safety before returning to class full-time.

There’s a catch with the new Pew poll, though. Yesterday I noted that public opinion on school reopenings isn’t quite as righteous across the population as it is among conservatives. Teachers unions are more popular than you might think, and parents seem to think that school districts are reopening at more or less the correct pace. One recent survey conducted by USC Dornsife found that 75 percent of parents are getting the type of instruction right now that they want for their kids, with just 15 percent saying they want more in-class instruction and 10 percent saying they want less. On the specific question of whether we should wait to reopen schools until teachers have been vaccinated, a proposition even Anthony Fauci and Rochelle Walensky disagree with, a Morning Consult survey published last week found that most adults think we should wait, 55/34. Pew asked that question in its new poll as well, and the results were, errr….

We can quibble with the way the question is worded (would people be more willing to reopen if only “some” teachers are still unvaccinated instead of “many”?) but the results are in line with what Morning Consult found. American adults seem more reluctant to open up the schools without vaccinating staff than even the head of the CDC is. How come?

One big clue lies in the racial split above. Although minority children face greater educational setbacks from school staying closed than many white kids do due to income disparities, some parents fear sending them back into class. Partly that’s due to longstanding distrust of school districts, partly it’s due to the outsized impact COVID has had on blacks and Latinos.

Education experts and Black parents say decades of racism, institutionalized segregation and mistreatment of Black children, as well as severe underinvestment in school buildings, have left Black communities to doubt that school districts are being upfront about the risks…

Ms. Carpenter said that as Black communities across the country see people dying disproportionately — she knows five people who have died of the coronavirus, most recently a mother of five, including a three-week-old baby — plans are not enough. Though children have largely been spared by the coronavirus, federal data released last fall showed that those who have died or developed life-threatening complications have predominantly been children of color. That trend has continued this year.

I wonder too whether the message from Fauci and Walensky that teachers don’t need to be vaccinated in order to make schools safe isn’t being lost in the noise from their overarching “maximum precautions at all times” guidance. If you’re an average joe who doesn’t happen to know offhand what Fauci thinks about reopening schools, it’d be understandable for you to assume that he thinks they should stay closed until they’ve been rendered as safe as humanly possible. A guy who’s telling people who’ve been fully vaccinated not to go out to eat or to the movies surely must be risk-adverse across the board, right?

Maybe the only way to counterprogram that assumption and get through to people that schools are largely safe at this point is an aggressive PR campaign on behalf of reopening from the very top. And needless to say, the Biden White House won’t be doing that. Your kids may be stuck in academic and social limbo for the rest of the year — and possibly next year too. God help them.

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