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New National Survey and Listening Sessions Reveal Parents’ Mindsets as Children Return to School

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Heidi May Wilson, Senior Manager, Media Relations

U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky discuss survey with NBC News Anchor Kate Snow in national parent town hall

ALEXANDRIA, Va., (Sept. 1, 2021)—National PTA today released the results of a national survey and listening sessions exploring parents’ mindsets on COVID-19 safety guidance and protocols and their expectations and concerns as their children return to school. The survey and listening sessions, which included parents and guardians with children in grades K-12 in public schools, were conducted by Edge Research in partnership with HCM Strategists and were supported by the CDC Foundation. 

Key findings of the survey show:

  • 50% of parents want their child to attend school in person this fall instead of hybrid or virtually. That number decreased after the CDC’s mask guidance was updated on July 27 and is also lower among Black and Latino/a parents.
  • About one quarter of parents feel very comfortable sending their children back to school this fall. Notably, white parents were significantly more comfortable with having their child return than Black or Latino/a Hispanic parents.
  • Parents are most concerned about their children contracting COVID-19 at school and future disruptions resulting in a return to remote learning.
  • To keep children safe at school, parents rank children staying home when they are sick, cleaning and disinfecting, and handwashing as highest priorities. There is less consensus among parents around vaccines.

Key takeaways from the listening sessions reveal:

  • Parents recognize the benefits of in-person learning, but many are conflicted about sending their children back due to the health risks.
  • Parents, especially parents of color, expressed distrust in districts and schools to implement safety precautions with fidelity. And parents overall, do not trust other parents to keep their kids home when they are sick or to follow precautions.
  • Parents respect vaccine choice and have concerns about stigmatizing of students based on vaccine status. Therefore, they want precautions in schools to apply universally to all students.

“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.”

In the survey, 60% of parents reported being somewhat or a lot worried about their children contracting COVID-19 at school and getting sick, 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.

When asked which recommendations are most and very important for schools to put in place to help keep children safe, 87% of parents indicated children staying home when they are sick, 86% of parents said cleaning and disinfecting, and 85% of parents said handwashing, 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. Parents are least supportive of recommendations that group or separate students by their vaccination status, with 49% of parents indicating that this is most and very important.

As part of the release of the research findings, National PTA, in partnership with the CDC Foundation, hosted a Back to Class Virtual Town Hall live on Facebook. The town hall featured remarks from First Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden, as well as a conversation with CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky and U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona. The town hall also featured American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Lee Ann Savio Beers, American Psychological Association Chief Executive Officer Dr. Arthur C. Evans Jr. and other experts in family engagement, family-school partnerships, mental health and social emotional well-being. The event was moderated by NBC Nightly News Sunday Anchor and Senior National Correspondent Kate Snow and was focused on addressing parents’ questions and concerns on how to help keep their children safe and in school this year, how to partner with teachers to address missed instruction this past year, and what they can do to support their children’s social emotional well-being. The town hall can be viewed on National PTA’s Facebook page

In addition to the town hall, the research findings will be spotlighted by NBC News.

“At PTA, we are focused on bringing knowledge, tools and resources into the lives of families; raising our voices at the national, state and local levels; and helping students, families, schools and communities navigate challenges they are facing,” said Nathan R. Monell, CAE, National PTA executive director. “Our association remains committed to safeguarding the education, health and safety of our nation’s children and making sure students, families and schools have what they need during this time in our country and all the time.”

To further support families this school year, National PTA will be marking a Back-to-School Week Sept. 13-17. Throughout the week, the association will be sharing information and resources at and on social media using #PTABackToSchool to help families, educators and PTAs plan their school year; engage their communities; and support students’ success academically, socially and emotionally.

About the Survey

The online survey was conducted by Edge Research among a nationwide sample of 1,448 parents and guardians with children in grades K-12 in public school. The survey, fielded in English and Spanish, included oversamples of Latino/a parents representing a mix of acculturation levels and Black parents.  Data were weighted to be representative of public-school parents in the U.S. The survey was fielded July 23- August 8, 2021.

About the Listening Sessions

Nine hour-long listening sessions were conducted across 9 states between July 12-August 18, 2021. Seven sessions were conducted in English and two sessions were conducted in Spanish. Listening session participants represented a mix of gender, race and ethnicity. The listening sessions were designed to serve as a companion to the national survey to bring the survey to life with stories, verbatims and observations that capture where parents are at this moment in time.

This project was supported by the CDC Foundation by way of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and as part of a financial assistance award totaling $447,531 with more than 99% funded by CDC/HHS and $2,400, less than 1%, funded by non-government source(s). The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.

About National PTA

National PTA® comprises millions of families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders devoted to the educational success of children and the promotion of family engagement in schools. PTA is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit association that prides itself on being a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education. Membership in PTA is open to anyone who wants to be involved and make a difference for the education, health, and welfare of children and youth. For more information, visit