What the narrative on school reopenings has missed

Republicans and Democrats have had very different views about the proper government response to reopening the nation, with Republicans much more worried about the costs of reopening too slowly and Democrats much more concerned about reopening too quickly. Not surprisingly then, heavily Republican areas were more likely to reopen schools than heavily Democratic areas, and Republicans were more likely to express a desire to return to in-person schooling. By early 2021, Republicans were still 32 percentage points likelier than Democrats to want an in-person option, and when given the opportunity for in-person learning, Republican families were more likely to choose it than Democratic families.

There has also been a racial dimension to parents’ views. In a July survey, black parents were 25 percentage points likelier than white parents to say returning was risky. A December report from the CDC found a similar racial gap. A survey found that among families given the option of in-person learning, white families were significantly more likely to choose it (76 percent) than black families (56 percent). This is corroborated by the experience in New York City and other districts where black families were disproportionately choosing to remain in online learning. In February, 80 percent of back adults said schools that weren’t open yet should stay closed until all teachers who want the vaccine have gotten it; only 51 percent of white respondents agreed.