By Chris Kahn
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Only one in four Americans think it is safe for public schools to reopen this fall as U.S. coronavirus cases climb, and four in 10 parents said they would likely keep their children home if classes resume, a new Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll shows.
The July 14-15 national online poll was conducted as the country’s 13,000 school districts grapple with how to safely resume instruction after closing in the spring as infections spread. The results suggest President Donald Trump’s demand to fully reopen schools is at odds with how most Americans feel.
Just 26% of American adults said they thought it was safe for schools in their community to bring students back. Another 55% felt they were not safe, and 19% were not sure.
The response was split along party lines: Half of Republicans said they thought schools were safe, compared with only one in 10 Democrats.
Among respondents with school-age children, about four in 10 said it was unlikely that they would send them to school if in-person teaching resumes. Another five in 10 said they would send their kids to school, and the rest said they were unsure.
Trump recently has made reopening public schools a focus of his re-election campaign, in part to court suburban voters, especially women, who are increasingly unhappy with him.
The Republican president has argued that the mortality rate from the coronavirus has declined in the United States, and that parents are under tremendous strain from managing their children and work at the same time. Trump said school districts must offer a full schedule of classes, and he threatened to cut funding from schools that do not follow through.
Yet the poll found that only three in 10 white women, including only two in 10 suburban white women, felt schools are safe to reopen. More than eight out of 10 white women said they are still concerned about the spread of the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 138,000 lives in the United States and has continued a rapid spread throughout much of the country.
White women are key for Trump’s re-election bid. He won that demographic by 13 points in the 2016 election, and they are also one of the most likely subgroups to vote.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who for months has led Trump in national polls, including a 10-point advantage among registered voters in the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, has called for a more cautious approach to re-opening schools.
Americans are largely relying on guidance from public health experts – and not the Trump administration – on when and how schools should open, the Reuters/Ipsos survey found.
Asked who should determine when schools reopen in their community, 40% said they would leave the decision to public health experts, while 17% said it should be up to the school districts and 13% said their state’s governor should decide. Only 5% said they would leave it to the federal government.
When classes resume, only 20% said students should return for the full school calendar. Another 37% felt students should begin an online-only curriculum, and 43% said students should follow a hybrid schedule that includes some time in the classroom and some instruction online.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online, in English, throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,114 American adults and has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of three percentage points.
Reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Alistair Bell