Nearly 90% of parents in the United States plan to send their children to school in person this fall, an increase since May, even with the delta variant spreading across the country and more children falling sick from COVID-19.
At the same time, almost one-third of parents say they don't know their child's school's COVID-19 safety plan, and 60% say they'd like to know about the measures their school is taking to keep kids safe.
The numbers are from a survey of more than 3,000 parents, conducted this summer by the RAND Corporation and commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation, aimed at finding out how hesitant adults are to send their children to school in person this year. The report, Will Students Come Back? was released Wednesday.
Andrew Sweet, managing director of COVID-19 response and recovery at the Rockefeller Foundation, said he was surprised to see more parents commit to in-person learning this summer than in the spring.
"I think we're at a breaking point and a lot of parents just can't afford to keep their kids at home. They don't have time. A lot of parents have to go to work. You can't work in a grocery store remotely," he said.
Parents with children under 12 years old -- and not yet authorized to receive a COVID-19 vaccine -- are just as likely to send their children to school in person as parents whose children were 12 or over, the survey found.
Fifty-seven percent of parents said they would get their child vaccinated when the shot is authorized for their age. Meanwhile, 52% of parents with children 12 and over -- who made up roughly two-thirds of all those surveyed -- said their child had received the vaccine.
Parents differed along racial lines: 94% of white parents surveyed said they would send their children to school in-person, compared to 83% of Hispanic and 82% of Black parents.
Additionally, parents of color were substantially more likely to require certain school safety measures -- like classroom ventilation, mandatory masking and vaccinated teachers -- to allow their kids to return to school buildings this fall.
Parents of color were twice as likely as white parents to support mask requirements, an issue that has flared recently in states like Florida, Texas and Arizona, where governors have attempted to ban schools from mandating face coverings for kids.
The survey found that only 27% of parents know in detail which safety measures their child's school is adopting, suggesting a glaring lack of communication that has most of the surveyed parents wanting more information about how their child will be protected from COVID-19 in the classroom.
"I think there is confusion because there are so many messengers," said Sweet.
Most parents in the survey said they'd prefer to get information about school safety from a school staff member, with 44% of them preferring to hear from a principal.
Yet educators might not be the most effective messengers of health guidance to parents and students, suggested Sweet.
"It's hard to be an educator but also a public health communicator. We've asked so much of our teachers over the course of the pandemic, and to add another piece to it to speak about ventilation systems or antigen testing ... that's not part of their vocation. That's not really what they signed up to do. And so it's asking them to do yet another thing," he said.
The public school district in New Orleans began weekly press conferences with the superintendent this summer to help communicate safety decisions to families. The district is also using social media to spread information, and is encouraging parents to speak to one another and contact their child's school directly.
"It is always our challenge to make sure the nitty-gritty details get to our parents, which is unfortunate and hard at times," Dina Hasiotis, senior adviser to the Superintendent of NOLA Public Schools, said in a roundtable streamed by the Rockefeller Foundation on Wednesday.