Skip to main content
Qualtrics Home page

Experience Management

Back to school study: Parents weigh in on the right balance between quality education and safety

Parents are sending their kids back to school for the second time during a global pandemic, but back to school does not mean back to normal. As Delta variant cases surge, especially among children, a majority of parents (56%) say they are more worried this school year than they were last year about the health and safety of their kids. 

That’s according to Qualtrics’ 2021 Back to School study, which examines parental opinions at a time of great uncertainty for government and school district leaders making critical policy decisions about children’s safety. 

In an attempt to create a quality educational experience while avoiding viral spread, some schools are imposing mask requirements. Others are considering going back to remote learning. Qualtrics research shows that 65% of parents would be supportive of a school closure if Delta variant cases continue to spike. 

Amidst great anxiety surrounding new variants, educators can use feedback to understand the needs of families, mitigate safety risks, and improve the learning experience.

To better understand how parents feel about their children’s education, Qualtrics asked more than 1,000 U.S. parents of kids 5-18 their thoughts on school closures, remote learning, and how they grade their school districts’ response to the pandemic. Here’s what they had to say:

Mental health: it’s not just back-to-school jitters

The stress of the pandemic has taken its toll on school-age kids, and a significant portion of parents are turning to private counseling as a means of help this fall.

  • More than half of parents (55%) say their kids experienced one of the following for the first time during the pandemic: signs of depression, signs of anxiety, loss of sleep due to anxiety (signs of anxiety was the most common answer).

teacher holding child on lap with a stat

  • 35% of parents say their kids’ mental health issues worsened during the pandemic, compared to 11% who say they improved and the rest who reported the status quo
  • The vast majority (74%) say returning to in-person school would improve the mental health of their children
  • 28% of parents are seeking private counseling as their child returns to school. 13% are considering it an option
    • More private school parents (59%) than public school parents (23%) are seeking private counseling for their kids
  • Most parents (57%) say their kids’ schools offer mental health services

Measuring mask fatigue

Even after a year and a half of the pandemic, parents disagree on what needs to happen in order to make schools safe.

  • 62% of parents support requiring masks for students attending classes or living on campus at a higher ed institution
  • 61% of parents support requiring masks for children attending K-12 school
    • Nearly a quarter (24%) of parents would consider pulling a child out of school if they are required to wear a mask.
  • Overall, parents are split on whether back to school policies should be determined federally, by state or by school district.
    • Democrats (52%) are much more likely than Republicans (23%) to support a national standard for back-to-school policies.
    • Republicans favor school districts deciding instead

Vaccine hesitancy vs. vaccine support

People are more likely to support requiring masks than showing proof of vaccination for most activities, including attending schools. About half of people say they plan to vaccinate their kids and about the same percentage support requiring proof of vaccination for school entry.

  • More than half (52%) of parents say they will vaccinate their kids when the vaccine is approved for those under 12
    • 73% of Democrats say they will vaccinate their kids when the vaccine is approved for those under 12, compared to 39% of Republicans
    • 62% of dads say they would vaccinate their kids compared to 42% of moms

5 school policies that would make parents more comfortable


  • 53% support requiring proof of vaccination for higher ed students attending classes or living on campus
  • 51% support requiring proof of vaccination for children attending K-12 school

How parents feel about the possibility of more school closures

As COVID cases rise, and vaccines are not yet approved for young children, parents and educators across the country are reconsidering plans for in-person school this fall. 

  • 65% of parents would be supportive of a school closure if Delta variant cases continue to spike
    • When split along political lines, Democrats (83%) are much more likely than Republicans (49%) to be supportive of a school closure 
    • By gender, dads (70%) are more likely than moms (60%) to say they would support a school closure 

back to school statistic

  • 56% of parents whose kids did fully in-person schooling last school year say they would be supportive of a school closure if Delta variant cases continue to spike supportive, compared to 79% of those whose kids attended remotely
  • Most parents approve of the way school districts have handled the global pandemic, with 67% grading their school district as above average (A or B on the grading scale)

Parents agree that in-person education is ideal for learning

Getting kids back to in-person school is still a priority for parents. More than going to the movies, eating in restaurants, traveling, or celebrating holidays, a third of parents say they are most looking forward to their kids returning to in-person school once the family is fully vaccinated. 

  • 71% of parents say their kids primarily attended school either remotely (30%) or with a hybrid model (41%) last school year
  • 65% of parents agree in-person classes taught by a teacher is the best learning environment for their K-12 kids
  • 69% of parents say that for college students, in-person classes are a learning advantage 

The one downside may be having to wear regular clothes: 

  • The majority of parents (59%) say their kids wore pajamas or some combination of pajamas on a regular basis to attend hybrid or at-home school

It’s time for kids to catch up on schoolwork

The pandemic has taken a toll on student learning as millions of kids have fallen behind in their education. Parents and teachers are hoping that this year, they can start catching up. But opinions are split on whose responsibility it is to make that happen.

  • 53% of parents say their kids fell behind on schoolwork during the pandemic 
    • Private school parents were more likely than public school parents to say this (68% compared to 53%) 
    • Parents say hybrid or remote learning is the No. 1 cause for the gap in their children’s education, over any other reason including being inside all day, too many distractions, too much screen time, lack of time dedicated by parents, or mental health struggles 

Back to school statistic

  • Most parents (63%) don’t feel it’s their primary responsibility to get their kids caught up on schoolwork 
    • 31% say teachers were responsible and 32% say it is the school district’s job
    • 29% answered parents, and only 2% answered private tutors, with 6% answering ‘other’

Parents embrace tech in schools

Despite the reported challenges of using new hardware and software, parents say the integration of technology, including iPads and Zoom, is the No. 1 teaching strategy from the pandemic that is worth keeping.

  • More than half of parents (54%) like that their kids are learning new technology at school, but 38% say they are worried about it and prefer more traditional learning instead
  • The overwhelming majority of parents (81%) say their kids have the technology they need for school. 70% say they are not worried about reported school supply shortages
  • Parents are split on whether they feel pressure to buy their kids new technology to keep up with learning in school or to keep up with other kids. 48% say yes or partial, 49% say no
    • Dads (38%) feel more pressure to buy tech for their kids than moms (27%)
    • Private school parents (51%) feel more pressure than public school parents (30%)

Methodological approach:
This study was fielded between July 28-30, 2021. Respondents were selected from a randomized panel and considered eligible if they live in the United States, are at least 18 years of age, and are parents of children aged 5-18. The total number of respondents was 1,025. Respondents who did not pass quality standards were removed.

Learn how to use surveys to your advantage


Qualtrics // Experience Management

Qualtrics, the leader and creator of the experience management category, is a cloud-native software platform that empowers organizations to deliver exceptional experiences and build deep relationships with their customers and employees.

With insights from Qualtrics, organizations can identify and resolve the greatest friction points in their business, retain and engage top talent, and bring the right products and services to market. Nearly 20,000 organizations around the world use Qualtrics’ advanced AI to listen, understand, and take action. Qualtrics uses its vast universe of experience data to form the largest database of human sentiment in the world. Qualtrics is co-headquartered in Provo, Utah and Seattle.

Related Articles