Slightly more than half of Chicago Public Schools parents want some type of in-person instruction in the fall, and the top concern for most parents in the coming months is keeping their children’s learning on track, according to a new poll released Tuesday by an education advocacy group.
But in a sign of the sharp divide of opinions on the critically important issue of health and learning, two out of every five parents said schools should remain fully closed, with nearly all parents surveyed saying they wanted schools to be better cleaned and disinfected.
The poll, which has a 3.8% margin of error, was commissioned by Stand for Children Illinois, an education advocacy group, and conducted by Tulchin Research from July 8 to July 14, in the week leading up to CPS’ fall reopening guidance released last Friday.
Mimi Rodman, Stand for Children Illinois’ executive director, said she views CPS’ plan as addressing parents’ concerns for the most part.
“The results that we found aligned generally with the framework that CPS put out in the sense that parents want some continuation of remote learning, and they want schools to be clean and safe,” Rodman said. “It’s going to be incumbent on CPS to address [cleaning and disinfection].
“It just reinforced to me how difficult these decisions are that are facing all of us.”
CPS’ “preliminary framework” released last week calls for two days of in-school learning for most students, with high school juniors and seniors remaining at home full-time. The Chicago Teachers Union has strongly advocated for full remote learning, at least to start the school year, saying it doesn’t feel CPS has come up with a way to keep schools safe and address the the health concerns of going back during a pandemic.
Asked about their preference for the fall, 40% of parents said schools should remain closed, while 35% said they should partially reopen and 19% thought learning should be fully in-classroom. A slim majority of Black parents and just less than half of Latino parents preferred at least a partial school reopening, while 47% of Latino parents and 42% of Black parents believe schools should remain entirely closed.
A total of 660 parents were polled, 264 of them Latino, 231 Black and 119 white. Preferences for white parents weren’t included.
The openness to at least a partial return for some parents could be explained by their thoughts about the state of the pandemic. While the majority of respondents, 59%, said the coronavirus is getting worse in the United States, most said they felt Chicago’s outbreak is either getting better or staying the same, and only 29% said they think it’s getting worse in the city.
When it came to parents’ chief concerns during the pandemic, 60% said maintaining their child’s level of education was a “very serious” worry, while 51% said their family or close friends getting sick was their biggest concern. Losing work or income, balancing the demands of a job with kids at home and challenges with their children learning from home all closely followed.
In all, 86% of parents said increased cleaning and disinfection of school buildings is “extremely important,” ranking that as their top health priority. Symptom screenings and temperature checks and mask use came next on the list of concerns.
Almost all parents said their children have missed socializing with their classmates, and three-quarters said their kids miss their teachers and after-school activities including sports.
Parents of all races felt the COVID-19 pandemic has had a larger impact on communities of color, with Black parents most likely to feel that way.
Stand for Children Illinois, the education advocacy group that commissioned the survey, declined to share crosstabs from the poll that would have shown the racial breakdown of each question’s responses. The survey was conducted through a combination of live phone interviews and online interviews of registered voters, all of whom are CPS parents.
The group that conducted the poll, Tulchin Research, is a Democratic political consulting firm and the pollster for Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Stand for Children has had connections to wealthy business and political interests. Former Gov. Bruce Rauner was involved with the non-profit before his run for office in 2014, when the group lobbied at times against the CTU. Backers have included the Walton family, Gates family and Pritzker family.
Today, the group’s Political Action Committee has more than a half-million dollars on hand, according to state election records, and typically supports Democratic candidates in the state legislature.