As COVID-19 rates rise again with the emergence of the omicron variant and roil school reopening plans, local educational leaders are faced with tough decisions about school policies. Though arguably these decisions should be informed by science, administrators must also consider how parents will respond. As the pandemic persists and new variants emerge, the partisan divide over COVID-19 mitigation strategies like masking and vaccination ensures any attempt to enforce these strategies will be politically fraught, at least for the near future.
We conducted a nationally representative survey in October 2021, before both the omicron surge and vaccine availability for 5- to 11-year-olds but in the midst of the Delta surge. We found the following:
- Sixty percent of US parents support universal mask mandates in schools and 64 percent support mask mandates in schools for the unvaccinated.
- Fifty percent of US parents support teacher vaccine mandates, 43 percent support vaccine mandates for students 12 and older, and only 38 percent support vaccine mandates for all students.
- White parents are the least likely to support mask mandates for unvaccinated students and teachers, with only 56 percent in favor, while Asian parents are the most likely to support these mandates, at 87 percent.
- Mask mandates held majority support among all racial and ethnic groups (except a universal mandate among white parents, which 48 percent supported), and vaccine mandates for teachers and students 12 and older had majority support among Asian, Black, and Hispanic groups.
- Every mask and vaccine policy in the survey had majority support among Democrats, but none did among Republicans, with the share of Democrats in support of any given policy two to four times the share of Republicans in support.
Parents are an essential stakeholder group to consider when designing and enacting school policy. School and district administrators developing policies may have the most to gain from outreach specifically to white parents, because support for masking and vaccine policies in schools is currently lowest for this group. Additionally, monitoring their local political landscape would help district administrators understand what feedback they might receive for their COVID-19 school policy recommendations. Though views on vaccine mandates might have changed both because of vaccines becoming available to children ages 5 to 11 and the omicron variant, until they become less politically divisive, all COVID-19-related polices and mitigation efforts will continue to be a contentious issue in schools.
Explore the Data
- Booster Shots and Omicron: What to Know About Efficacy, Eligibility and More
- What we know about masks, students, and COVID spread: A Chalkbeat guide
- COVID Behaviors Dashboard
- Health Equity Considerations and Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups
- COVID-19 Vaccine Acceptance and Beliefs among Black and Hispanic Americans
- The School Board Wars, Part 1
- Delayed, diluted, or nonexistent: Vaccine mandates for school staff stall out
- Los Angeles schools, with 30K unvaccinated students, push off COVID-19 vaccine mandate until fall 2022