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School safety, learning gaps top of mind for parents this back-to-school season

Only 31% of K-12 parents say they feel their children are “very safe” at school, and nearly half (46%) say they have either had their children change schools or considered doing so due to safety concerns, according to new research from Qualtrics. While the past two back-to-school seasons have been dominated by conversations about COVID safety policies like masks and remote learning, this school year, parents have other worries on their minds.

When it comes to safety, school shootings and bullying top the list of concerns for parents, with COVID coming in at number three. Amidst higher costs of living and ongoing teacher shortages, parents are also thinking about how to help their children get caught up on learning lost during the pandemic and how to pay for what they need this school year, including food, clothes and school supplies.

In order to gauge what’s top of mind as kids head back to school, Qualtrics asked over 1,000 U.S. parents of children in grades K-12 how they are feeling about their children’s education, mental health and safety. Here are the key findings from the 2022 Back-to-School Study.

Parents are more worried about school shootings than COVID this year

School safety is a reason parents are moving their children to new schools, with 13% saying they have already done so, and another 33% saying they are considering it.

  • Overall, 31% of K-12 parents say they feel their children are “very safe,” at school
    • 39% of private/religious school parents say their children are “very safe” compared to 37% of public charter school parents and 28% of traditional public school parents
  • The top school safety concerns for parents are:
    • 1) School shootings
    • 2) Bullying
    • 3) COVID
  • The top things parents want schools to do to improve safety are:
    • 1) Increase security guards or personnel
    • 2) Carry out safety trainings with students
    • 3) Improve COVID safety protocols
  • 29% of parents say they have personally taught their children techniques for staying safe at school and another 49% are considering doing so

Parents now see it as their responsibility to close learning gaps

Parents last year said it was the school districts’ primary responsibility to get kids caught up on lost learning from the pandemic, according to Qualtrics’ 2021 Back-to-School Study. But this year, more parents say it's their job to help close learning gaps.

  • 56% of parents say their children have fallen behind on learning during the global pandemic
    • Of those parents, more than a third (37%) say their children are six months or more behind in school
    • And 19% say their child is a whole grade level behind or more
  • A majority of parents (57%) say their children’s education has been negatively impacted by school staffing shortages
    • 27% say their children have had more substitute teachers
    • 21% say their children have had teachers who are burned out or seem to lack motivation to teach well
    • 18% say their children have had teachers leave in the middle of the school year
  • While math is the top area where students have fallen behind (38%), followed by reading and writing (28%), 23% of parents say their children’s social development is delayed the most
  • When asked, “Who do you think has the primary responsibility to get your children caught up in learning?” the top answers for 2022 were:
    • Parents (34%)
    • School districts (28%)
    • Teachers (24%)

Parental support for mask mandates in K-12 schools is still strong

While the pandemic has evolved over the past year, parents’ support for requiring kids in K-12 schools to wear masks has stayed the same at 61%. The percentage of parents who say they would support requiring K-12 students to show proof of vaccination has fallen slightly from 51% in 2021 to 46% in 2022.

  • 29% of parents would consider pulling their child out of school if they were required to wear a mask
    • This number has gone up from 24% in 2021
  • 46% of parents would consider pulling their child out of school of they were required to get the COVID vaccine

Increased cost of living is impacting back-to-school budgets

With July’s year-over-year inflation rate at 8.5%, parents are worried about being able to afford basic necessities for their children this year, including food, clothing and school supplies.

  • 46% of parents at schools with free breakfast or lunch programs say they will rely on them more this year
  • 67% of food insecure parents say their children have fallen behind on learning vs. 50% of non-food insecure parents
  • A large proportion of parents say they are worried about paying for the following things this year:
    • Clothing (47% are worried)
    • School supplies (42% are worried)
    • Transportation to school (40% are worried)
    • Technology kids need for school (40% are worried)
    • Extracurricular activities (38% are worried)
    • Food (36% are worried)

Parents share concerns about kids’ sleep, mental health and technology use

Almost two in five (19%) parents say their children don’t get enough sleep, and over a quarter (27%) say their children’s mental health has worsened during the pandemic. Early school start times and too much technology use for schoolwork could be contributing to challenges.

  • 62% of parents say their children have experienced signs of anxiety, signs of depression or loss of sleep due to mental health challenges during the pandemic.
    • 30% of parents say they are seeking private counseling for their children
    • Another 13% are considering it as an option
  • 61% of parents say their schools offer mental health services, but 64% of those same people say there are barriers to access. The top challenges are:
    • 1) Families don’t know what’s available
    • 2) Only short-term treatment is available
    • 3) Counselors are not effective
  • A majority (54%) of parents would support schools switching to a later school start time vs. only 20% who do not support
    • 18% of parents say school starts before 7AM
    • 19% of parents say their children don’t get enough sleep
  • A majority (53%) of parents think their kids spend too much time on screens for schoolwork
    • About a third of parents say their children have experienced negative effects like distraction (33%), boredom (30%) or irritability (23%) from spending too much time looking at screens for school or homework

Learn more about experience management for education

Methodology: This study was fielded between July 19 and July 29, 2022. 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 have a child who will be enrolled in grades K-12 during the 2022-23 school year. The total number of respondents was more than 1,000

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.

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