Amid the surging COVID-19 cases and the Delta variant, how do students and parents feel about going back to school this fall?
Thanks to the pandemic, last year’s back to school season was unexpected and unpredictable for many students. Though hopes of a “normal” return to school were strong for 2021, with COVID-19 still lingering, along with the emergence of the Delta variant, students and families are facing another anxiety-filled back to school season as most school districts and college campuses finalize their reopening plans to welcome students back for in-person learning.
Across the U.S., news stories report that “thousands of students” who have returned to schools are already in quarantine after being exposed to the virus as the Delta variant wreaks havoc in the classrooms. One elementary school in Virginia reported that 53 fourth-graders had to go into lockdown after four students reportedly tested positive for COVID. Meanwhile, school districts where masks are optional are reportedly seeing more positive cases, while pediatric cases of COVID are “rising nationwide” and are continuing to surge in areas with low vaccination rates. This especially affects parents for kids 12-years-old and younger since the vaccine hasn’t been approved for anyone under that age—and many have expressed their concerns on Twitter.
But even before the return to schools began with these results, with the surging cases and new variants we wanted to know how students and parents really felt about going back to school in person for the fall—and how many are planning to. YPulse’s recent education behavioral report explores what the fall semester looks like for students (and parents) and their feelings around what they think are appropriate mandates. Here are five stats about how they’re viewing school right now:
More than half of middle school and high school students plan to be physically back in school.
YPulse asked how students are planning to attend school this fall and found that 45% of 13-39-year-old students will be in the classroom this fall,20% plan to be hybrid, and 14% plan to take classes fully online. The number who plan to be back in classrooms in-person is significantly higher among middle school and high school students, with 56% of them saying they will be in a classroom compared to 27% of college students. Our data shows that 35% of Millennial parents say their child will be attending school both in the classroom and online this fall, while 33% say their child will be in the classroom. The lower percentage is likely partially due to the fact that many Millennial parents have younger kids who are not yet school age, but could also indicate that Millennial parents are more likely to be keeping their kids for at-home learning than parents of older generations. Meanwhile, college students are more likely than middle/high school students to say that they will have hybrid schedules, and 21% say they will be completely online. (This group is also more anxious about a return to school, which we’ll get to shortly.) They’re also more likely than middle/high school students to say that their schools had not (as of the end of July) made a decision about where schooling would happen for the fall, with 20% saying this was the case. With schedules still undecided for many, and hybrid plans more popular among college students, it then makes sense that…
More than half of college students want a hybrid schedule.
Not only are 26% of college students planning for school to happen both in the classroom and online, but YPulse also found that 55% of college students say that schools should have a mix of in-person and remote classes, while 52% of middle school and high school students say the same thing. Forty percent of middle school and high school students say they want only in-person classes only, while 27% of college students say they want only in-person classes. middle school and high school students are clearly more eager to physically return to school than college students, but it’s significant that half of this group thinks that their education should be hybrid this fall as well. Clearly, their excitement is being tempered by caution—possibly as more reports come out that the Delta variant has been infecting younger generations. And there are clear signs that they’re anxious about returning…
Nearly half of students are scared to physically go back to school.
Forty-eight percent of 13-39-year-old students say they are afraid to go back to school in-person. Looking at the two groups, college students are more anxious about a return to in-person learning, with 57% of college students saying they are afraid to go back to school in-person compared to 43% of middle school and high school students. Though over half of both groups say that remote learning is difficult, many are not feeling that the alternative is safe. We also found that 62% of both groups agree “I feel overwhelmed when thinking about the upcoming fall school semester,” and only 50% tell us that they feel comfortable going to school in-person. As mentioned, the Delta variant is a massive concern among young people—and our on-demand PULSE survey found that 59% of 16-34-year-olds are worried about the Delta variant, and our State of Mind trend research found that 54% of 13-39-year-olds say their mental health has been negatively impacted by COVID. This fall semester will likely be another test for their mental wellness. Brands like Victoria’s Secret PINK have tried to find ways to support students during this time: For their “Back To ___” campaign aimed at helping students prioritize their mental health by giving away $250,000 in a nationwide sweepstakes by entering through a contest via Instagram. A nationwide survey conducted by PINK found that Gen Z students describe their feelings for going back-to-school as “hopeful,” “anxious,” and “ready,” while respondents also ranked going to restaurants, traveling, hanging out with family/friends in-person, attending events, and in-person shopping as the activities they’re most looking forward to enjoying this fall. (YPulse’s trend research also found found that 72% of middle school and high school students say they would appreciate mental health support from brands). But if students have thoughts about what safety requirements should take place in-schools…
More than half of students think mask mandates should be required in schools
Sixty-two percent of 13-39-year-old students think that students and teachers should be required to wear masks while in school this fall. This number is even higher among students who live in cities, with 77% who live in big cities saying that students and teachers should wear masks compared to 60% who live in small cities, 56% who live in the suburbs, and 48% who say they live in a rural area. And again we see college students are more cautious, with 71% of them saying they think students and teachers should be required to wear masks while in school compared to 56% of middle school and high school students who feel the same way. Our PULSE survey found that forty-two percent of 16-34-year-olds are wearing masks in public spaces because of the Delta variant, and more than half of students are applying that to schools too. But while the majority of students overall do support masks in school this fall, Millennial parents feel even more strongly about it…
The majority of Millennial parents also want schools to require masks.
Meanwhile, 75% of Millennial parents with kids in school think students and teachers should be required to wear masks while in school this fall. This number is significant considering the many, many headlines about mask mandates in schools are causing conflict across the country. The LA Times, and many others, have reported that parents are “divided” by these mandates, with parent protests against masks becoming increasingly common, taking over school board meetings and schools. And COVID school protocols are varying wildly by state: While some are issuing vaccine mandates for school staff, others are issuing executive orders to allow parents to opt out of mask mandates. But YPulse’s data shows that the majority of Millennial parents do want masks for their kids and for teachers in schools this fall. It’s not unrelated that 59% of Millennial parents agree, “If my kids have to do remote education this fall, I will need outside help,” and 54% agree “If my kids have to do remote education this fall, it will impact my career.” The majority believe that schools should be open for hybrid learning, and only 14% say school should be fully remote this fall. These parents likely want, if not need, their kids to be in school–but they want them to be safe.
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