A nationwide survey has found that women, people of color, and lower-income people are more likely to believe that it would be unsafe for children in the United States to return to their community schools in the fall.

A series of surveys of more than 19,000 people, conducted by researchers from Harvard Kennedy School and other universities, has been measuring attitudes and behaviors of Americans toward the COVID-19 pandemic since April. The seventh wave of the survey tested public opinion from July 10 to July 26.

Matthew Baum headshotIn the latest report on the survey findings,  the researchers say they found that just 31% of respondents overall felt it would be safe or very safe for K-12 students in their community to return to school. Of those, just 10% said it would be very safe, while 21% chose safe. A total of 64% of respondents felt it would not be safe to return to schools.

The results differed substantially based on the gender, race, income, and political affiliation of those surveyed. For example, Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian Americans all felt considerably more pessimistic about school safety than white respondents. And the wealthiest respondents—those with incomes over $200,000—were almost twice as likely to express confidence in school safety than the least wealthy people surveyed—those with incomes under $10,000.

A narrow majority of those who identify as Republicans said they felt it would be safe for students in their communities to return to school compared with just 15% of Democrats and 28% of independents. The results also varied sharply by state. The five states with the highest level of confidence in reopening schools are solidly Republican, while the five least confident include two Republican-led states and three solidly Democratic (including the District of Columbia).

The report was published as school districts across the United States wrestle with whether to stay remote in the fall, return to classes, or embrace a hybrid approach. Among the researchers are the Kennedy School’s Matthew Baum, the Marvin Kalb Professor of Global Communications at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, and John Della Volpe, director of polling at the School’s Institute of Politics.

Banner photo by Adam Robison

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