Customer Experience

Most parents will send kids back to school — with hesitation, Qualtrics study finds

Parents are faced with a tough decision: Send their kids to school during an ongoing pandemic or keep them home and continue the often difficult process of remote learning. According to the latest Qualtrics research, parents are saying ‘go,’ reluctantly.

Will parents send their children back to school?

A recent Qualtrics study of more than 1,000 parents in the U.S. with children in preschool through high school found that the majority of parents (53%) who can send their children to school in-person are uncomfortable doing so. But 63% of parents who have the option say they’re planning to send their children anyway.

“In response to this uncertainty among students and families, education leaders must listen and act holistically,” said Omar Garriot, Global Education Industry Lead at Qualtrics. “Policymakers and educators have to act like first responders and be prepared to change quickly when confronted with each new situation.”

Back to school graph 1

Nearly three-quarters of parents (74%) who are likely to send their child back to the classroom said it’s because they believe their school is taking appropriate safety precautions to protect against COVID-19. More than half (56%) say they’ll send their child back because their child learns better in the classroom.

  • 46% say their child needs more social interaction with other children
  • 39% say their child needs more structure in their day-to-day
  • 30% say it’s because COVID-19 is less dangerous for children
  • 14% say it’s because they don’t have other childcare options

Almost 30% of parents who have the option to send their child to school in-person say they are unlikely to do so, however. A vast majority of those (86%) say they hesitate because COVID-19 is still a risk for children. Nearly three-quarters (72%) say it’s because they worry students will spread COVID-19 to others.

  • 50% say it’s because they worry about the safety of teachers and administrators, in addition to the students
  • 20% say it’s because their school does not have sufficient safety measures in place
  • 17% say it’s because they don’t think their child will learn effectively in the classroom environment

Different families, different back-to-school plans

Parents’ decisions to send their children back to school in-person vary drastically among different demographic populations.

Higher income parents are significantly more likely to send their children back to school in person — and feel comfortable about it.

  • About three-quarters of parents who make more than $100,000 a year are likely to send their children back to school, but that percentage drops with income level
  • Less than 60% of parents who make $50,000 to $100,000 are likely to send their children to school in-person, and 52% of parents who make less than $50,000 a year are likely to send their child back to the classroom
  • Nearly half of all parents who make $100,000 or more felt comfortable sending their children to school, while 37% of parents who make $50,000 to $100,000 felt the same. Less than 30% of parents who make less than $50,000 said they felt comfortable sending their kids to the classroom

Parents with college degrees or higher, as well as working parents, were also significantly more likely to send their children to school in-person and feel comfortable about it.

  • 74% of parents with an advanced degree were likely to do so, 65% of parents with a college degree said they probably would, but less than half (49%) of parents without a college degree said they’d send their child to school in-person
  • More than 45% of parents with college degrees or higher feel comfortable sending their children to school, while only 28% of parents without a college degree say the same
  • Working parents were 72% more likely to send their children to school than non-working parents, with 69% of working parents saying they’d do so and 40% of non-working parents saying the same
  • Non-working parents are also 45% more likely to feel uncomfortable sending their children to school, with 71% of non-working parents saying they feel uncomfortable and only 49% of working parents saying the same

Black and LatinX parents are about half as likely as white parents to send their children to school. And significantly less likely to feel comfortable about it.

  • 67% of white parents are likely to send their children to school in-person, while only 9% are still unsure of what they’ll do
  • 38% of Black parents are likely to send their child back to the classroom, while 18% are still unsure
  • LatinX parents are least likely to send their child back to school right now, with only 30% saying they were likely to, and 22% saying they were still unsure
  • Black and LatinX parents are also much less comfortable sending their children to school than white parents: 44% of white parents say they feel comfortable sending their children to school, and only 10% of Black parents and 14% of LatinX parents say the same

Back to school graph 2

What options do parents have?

Choices for school instruction are mostly binary for families with children in 8th grade or below. Half of those parents said remote instruction with no physical classroom was one option — or the only option — available to their children right now. Nearly an equal amount (47%) said the same about full-time instruction in the classroom. Only 26%, however, said that their child was offered a hybrid system, with some instruction in the classroom and some remote.

For parents of high school-age children, however, there is more fluidity. Half of parents still said remote instruction was one of the options — or the only option — available to their high school-age children, while 42% said the same about full-time instruction in the classroom. One-third of parents, however, said their high schoolers had the option of hybrid instruction – part in-the-classroom and part remote.

A stunning 18% of parents with children younger than high school age said that homeschool, where the parents chose the curriculum, was an option for their children, and 15% of parents of high schoolers said the same.

But while continued remote instruction seems to be the most ubiquitous option for parents, the majority (42%) would prefer full-time instruction in the classroom for their children.

  • 30% say they would prefer remote instruction
  • 16% say they would prefer a hybrid system, with some remote and some in-classroom instruction
  • 10% say they’d prefer homeschool where they decide the curriculum
  • 2% say other

Back to school graph 3

What will make parents more comfortable?

Though more than half of parents say they’re uncomfortable sending their children to school in-person, the majority are likely to do so, mainly because they believe schools have implemented sufficient safety measures. Among parents who say their school does have acceptable protocols in place:

  • 79% say their school has implemented social distancing, even during time at school but outside the classroom
  • 74% say their school has implemented mask-wearing
  • 68% say their school has implemented social distancing in the classroom
  • 67% say their school is regularly disinfecting the school and classrooms
  • 64% say their school is encouraging children, teachers, and staff to wash and disinfect their hands regularly
  • 52% say their school has implemented daily symptom checking
  • 36% say their school has protocols in place in case someone tests positive
  • 31% say their school has increased supervision of children
  • 28% say their school has implemented contact tracing
  • 25% say their school has implemented regular surveys to gauge the opinions of teachers, parents, staff, and students

The vast majority trusts the safety provided by masks, and most parents who can send their child to school in-person are in favor of the most common safety measures: 84% say they want their child to wear a mask to school while the same percentage say they want everyone at their child’s school to wear a mask. Slightly more (86%) say they expect their child’s school to enforce mask-wearing. And 90% want their child’s school set up for social distancing.

Back to school graph 4

The 53% of parents who say they are uncomfortable sending their child to school indicate the following safety precautions would help them feel more comfortable:

  • 65% say they want the school to implement social distancing, even during time spent at school but outside the classroom
  • 65% say they want the school to implement mask-wearing
  • 63% say they want the school to implement social distancing in the classroom
  • 62% say they want the school to regularly disinfect the school and classrooms
  • 61% say they want the school to encourage children to wash and disinfect their hands regularly
  • 57% say they want the school to implement daily symptom checking
  • 47% say they want the school to implement protocols in the event someone tests positive
  • 43% say they want the school to implement increased supervision of children
  • 35% say they want the school to implement regular surveys to gauge the opinions of teachers, staff, parents, and students
  • 34% say they want the school to implement contact tracing

“Most of the toughest decisions will simply flow from the ability of schools and districts to listen -- deeply, regularly and proactively,” Garriott said. “From students to teachers, from families to staff, understanding stakeholders’ experiences, and then baking them into decisions and processes, has never been more vital.”


See how Qualtrics can help parents feel more comfortable sending kids back to school with symptom checking, contact tracing, and more