Most parents want online or hybrid learning for students, survey finds

A recent survey found most parents and guardians are worried about their children getting infected with COVID-19 as in-person schooling resumes, and that a majority desired online classes or a hybrid situation. 

The survey was conducted by Edge Research and results were released on September 1 by the National PTA, a nonprofit association that provides resources to parents regarding public education. The CDC Foundation supported the survey. 

Parents and guardians of children in grades K-12 were asked to share their thoughts as students return to largely in-person classes this fall amid the ongoing pandemic.

"The survey and listening sessions demonstrate that parents are continuing to juggle multiple worries as their children are returning to school. From concerns about their children contracting COVID-19 and future disruptions to their academics to concerns about their children’s mental, social and emotional health, parents are trying to ensure their children can still learn and benefit from in-person instruction while keeping them safe and healthy," said Anna King, president of National PTA. "The survey and listening sessions underscore the critical importance of truly meeting parents where they are during this unprecedented time and making sure their voices and perspectives are heard."

RELATED: New CDC mask guidelines: Vaccinated should mask indoors, as should K-12 schools

The national online survey was conducted between July 23 and Aug. 8 and 1,448 parents and guardians participated, according to a National PTA news release.

During a virtual town hall meeting to discuss the survey’s findings on September 1, updated data from the PTA found that 43% of parents wanted to resume in-person learning and the rest wanted to go back to a virtual or hybrid learning situation. Only 26% of parents reported feeling very comfortable sending their children back to school in person this fall.

Earlier findings of the same survey found 58% of parents wanted their kids back in class with their fellow students and teachers, but that percentage dropped to 43% following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask guideline updates on July 27, according to the PTA.

The CDC changed its mask guidelines in July for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, citing new information about the ability of the delta variant to spread by those who have been vaccinated.

The CDC is now recommending that vaccinated people wear masks indoors again in parts of the U.S. where the coronavirus is surging and that everyone in K-12 schools wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.

RELATED: COVID-19 delta variant surge: How to tell if you’re in high-risk area

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the high transmissibility of the delta variant is behind the agency’s change in guidelines.

"Unlike the alpha variant that we had back in May, where we didn’t believe that if you were vaccinated you could transmit further - this is different now with the delta variant. And we’re seeing that now, infection is possible if you (have been vaccinated and) are a rare breakthrough infection, that you can transmit further, which is the reason for the change," she said.

RELATED: 2 Texas teachers die of COVID-19, prompting school district shutdown

The survey also revealed that 60% of parents are worried their child will get infected with COVID-19, "followed by 58% of parents who reported being worried their children will contract the virus and get a family member sick. More than half of parents (58%) also reported being worried about future disruptions to their children’s learning," according to the PTA.

Approximately 87% of parents believed that the best way to protect students from becoming sick and potentially starting an outbreak was to make sure sick children stayed home, 86% believed that proper cleaning and disinfecting by school staff was also necessary to protect students from infection and 85% of parents believed handwashing was another important factor. 

Followed "by 77% of parents who indicated ventilation, 76% who said contact tracing and quarantine, 75% who said masking and 70% who said social distancing," the PTA said. 

Despite more than half of parents favoring mask-wearing while attending school, the issue is still a point of contention for many states.

RELATED: Teacher took off mask for read-aloud and infected half the class with COVID-19, CDC report says

While experts say the widespread use of masks can effectively limit virus transmission in school buildings, opponents say they restrict breathing and the ability of children to read social cues. Conflicts over masks have put some boards in Florida, Texas and Arizona at odds with their Republican governors.

In several states, embattled board members who do not resign are facing recall efforts. Ballotpedia lists 59 school board recall efforts against 147 board members in 2021.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed back with an appeal against a recent ruling that allowed schools to implement mask mandates for students. So far, 14 school districts statewide have implemented a mask mandate. That includes Orange, Brevard, Volusia, and Alachua counties.

RELATED: Ron DeSantis appeals ruling on Florida's ban of mask mandates in schools

The governor is firing back saying parents should be able to choose what is best for their kids by officially appealing the court ruling.

"Ultimately we're just trying to stand with the parents, a lot of parents, they know their kid, in terms of health," DeSantis said.

The governor’s lawyers have taken their case to the 1st District of Appeal in Tallahassee. Desantis wants the appeals court to reverse the decision which essentially gave Florida’s 67 school boards the power to impose a student mask mandate.

Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman, said she is deeply concerned about the rising number of outbreaks in schools across the state. 

RELATED: Health experts say new COVID-19 surge in Arizona fueled by students returning to school

"It's been really disheartening and disappointing to now be where we are," said Hoffman on Aug. 30.

Hoffman said she does not agree with Gov. Doug Ducey's decision to block schools from federal grants for implementing mask use requirements.

"It takes us in the opposite direction of what we should be doing," said Hoffman. "We need steady leadership to do everything we can to maintain in-person learning, but when you are essentially preventing schools from having these mitigation strategies in place like masking, it’s causing there to be more outbreaks and more disruption to learning."

Hoffman said while she does not foresee school closures statewide, local closures could happen if cases keep rising.

RELATED: Overwhelmed Cook Children's doctors make desperate plea as COVID-19 delta variant surge continues

"When we see severe outbreaks, we can see where a district or a school might have to transition to remote to prevent the spread of COVID-19," said Hoffman.

The start of the school year coincided with increasing COVID-19 infections among children, according to the latest data from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

"Having children in the classroom is critically important to learning," Dr. Patrice Harris, former president of the American Medical Association and current CEO and co-founder of digital telehealth company, eMed, told FOX News in part. "Keeping schools open is a particular challenge now as we have seen an increasing number of children with moderate illness and hospitalized with COVID-19."

As of Aug. 26, an estimated 204,000 new cases occurred among children over the week prior, with a 9% uptick spanning a two-week period and an over five-fold increase in cases since mid-July, rising from 38,000 by July 22, per the AAP.

RELATED: Two children, including newborn, die of COVID-19 at north Florida hospital

The number of children infected with COVID-19 reached winter-time surges for the second consecutive week, however severe illness due to COVID-19, virus-related hospitalizations and death continue to be uncommon among children, the pediatrics group also noted. Nevertheless, pediatric COVID-19-related hospitalizations have hit all-time highs in the U.S., with the most recent data from the CDC reporting over 52,600 admissions through the month of August thus far.

CDC data also indicate teens aged 16-17 hold the highest number of cases per 100,000 population across all age groups at 254.4 per 100,000, followed by adolescents aged 12-15 at 243.6 per 100,000.

FOX News, Fox 35 Orlando, Fox 10 Phoenix and Megan Ziegler contributed to this report.