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U.S. K-12 Parents Support Mask Mandate, Divided on Vaccines

U.S. K-12 Parents Support Mask Mandate, Divided on Vaccines

Story Highlights

  • Majorities of U.S. adults favor vaccine and mask mandates for students
  • K-12 parents less supportive of such mandates than U.S. adults are
  • 76% of K-12 parents expect return to pre-pandemic schedule this school year

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As children in the U.S. head back to school amid another uptick in COVID-19 cases, and public health and school officials are grappling with safety measures, majorities of Americans support mask mandates in schools for unvaccinated students and teachers or staff members. They likewise think middle and high school students should be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in order to attend in-person classes.

However, parents with students in kindergarten through 12th grade are significantly less supportive of each measure. These results were largely obtained before medical and public health experts called for face-mask requirements in schools regardless of vaccination status in late July.

Broad Support for Face-Mask Mandates, Less for Vaccine Mandates

Two-thirds of U.S. adults and 60% of K-12 parents support mask mandates for unvaccinated teachers and staff members. A slightly lower percentage of U.S. adults (64%) and 57% of parents of school-aged children favor mask mandates for unvaccinated students.

Americans' and K-12 Parents' Support for Requiring Masks in Schools Amid COVID-19
Percentages who favor requiring each
U.S. adults Parents of K-12 students
% %
Face masks for:
Unvaccinated teachers/staff 67 60
Unvaccinated students 64 57
GALLUP panel, July 19-26, 2021

The survey did not include questions about face-mask mandates for vaccinated students and teachers. Face-mask mandates are especially relevant to elementary school students, who are generally not old enough to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

When it comes to COVID-19 vaccine requirements, 60% of Americans overall now favor them for high school students and 56% support them for middle school students. The readings have ticked up slightly since May. However, less than half of K-12 parents currently think high school (47%) or middle school students (43%) should have to be vaccinated to attend school. Gallup does not have a comparable estimate on parent support for vaccine mandates from May.

Americans' and K-12 Parents' Support for Requiring Vaccines in Schools Amid COVID-19
Percentages who favor requiring each
U.S. adults Parents of K-12 students
% %
Vaccinations for:
High school students 60 47
Middle school students 56 43
GALLUP panel, July 19-26, 2021

This latest update to Gallup's probability-based COVID-19 web panel survey was conducted July 19-26, just as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced new guidance calling for universal masking in schools regardless of vaccination status. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made the same recommendation at the end of the poll's field period.

The CDC has since also advised masking indoors for vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans in areas of high transmission because the very contagious delta variant of COVID-19, first detected in India, has been found to infect fully vaccinated people. It is unclear whether these recent announcements would have increased public support for face-mask or vaccine mandates.

While public health officials tout mask mandates as the best chance for uninterrupted, in-person schooling for the 2021-2022 school year, the advice has been criticized by some in the U.S. A number of states have gone so far as to ban schools from requiring mask use, and grassroots organizations of parents have popped up around the country to fight against mandatory masking in schools.

In addition to masking, the AAP and CDC continue to advise all eligible Americans to get a coronavirus vaccine. Although the vaccine has been available to children aged 12-15 since May, fewer than three in 10 of them are fully vaccinated, making them the eligible age group with the lowest coverage. As is the case with vaccines for adults, the Food and Drug Administration has not yet issued final approval for children's COVID-19 vaccines.

Private businesses and government offices are requiring employees to be vaccinated or undergo frequent testing to come to work, and many U.S. colleges and universities across the country are requiring students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to enroll for the fall semester. The public is broadly supportive of requiring college students to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, with 63% in favor and 37% opposed. In May, 61% of U.S. adults supported requiring college students to be vaccinated.

Parent's Support for Mandates in School Depends on Child's Vaccination Status

Parents' views of mask and vaccine requirements for K-12 students differ greatly based on whether their own child has been vaccinated against COVID-19. That is, large majorities of K-12 parents whose children have been vaccinated support requiring masking for unvaccinated students and teachers and vaccinations for eligible students. Meanwhile, parents of students who are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine but haven't done so are largely opposed to each mandate.

Majorities of parents of children under 12 -- whose children are not eligible to be vaccinated -- are supportive of face-mask mandates in schools. Although not directly related to their situation, parents of children 12 and under are not supportive of vaccine mandates for older children who are eligible for vaccines.

K-12 Parents' Views of Requiring Masks, Vaccines Amid COVID-19
Percentages who favor requiring each
Parents of vaccinated students 12-18 Parents of unvaccinated students 12-18 Parents of students under age 12
% % %
Face masks for:
Unvaccinated teachers/staff 86 35 61
Unvaccinated students 84 35 56
Vaccinations for:
High school students 79 20 45
Middle school students 75 17 40
Gallup Panel, July 19-26, 2021

Parents' Expectations of the Normalcy of School Year

After dealing with unprecedented disruptions during the past two school years, parents are largely expecting their children to return to a pre-pandemic school schedule. About three-quarters of K-12 parents, 76%, think their children will be in school as much as they were before the pandemic, while 17% are unsure and 7% do not think it will be a normal year. With school at least several weeks away for some children, this expectation could change if the overall situation in the country worsens.

While majorities of parents in all major demographic subgroups think their children will have a normal school schedule, there are sizable differences among those in different regions of the U.S. Midwesterners and Easterners are more likely than Westerners and Southerners to expect normal schedules.

Although states led by Republican and Democratic governors have varied in their directives to schools during the pandemic, parents in Republican- and Democratic-led states have similar expectations about their children's school schedule this year.

K-12 Parents Largely Expect Normal School Year in 2021-2022
For the upcoming school year, do you expect your child/children will return to the same school schedule (e.g., five days a week in-person) they had before the coronavirus pandemic began?
Yes No Unsure
% % %
K-12 parents 76 7 17
U.S. region
Midwest 87 -- 13
East 80 8 12
West 73 10 18
South 71 9 20
Party of governor
Republican 78 6 16
Democrat 75 8 18
Gallup Panel, July 19-26, 2021

Bottom Line

While K-12 schools in some parts of the country have begun the new school year, others will do so in the coming weeks. Although majorities of Americans think unvaccinated K-12 students, teachers and staff members should be required to wear masks to curb the spread of COVID-19, fewer K-12 parents are on board. Likewise, the public is more likely than parents of school-aged children to favor mandated vaccines for eligible students in order for them to attend school.

Some parents who oppose mandates have vocally protested and even sued school districts. Meanwhile, many school districts have not finalized their plans, and those that have may be adjusting them in light of revelations about the contagiousness of the delta variant and the newly issued guidance from epidemiologists and public health officials. Views of COVID-19 vaccines and masking have been polarized politically throughout the pandemic and continue to be, including attitudes related to schools.

Even though government agencies and private companies and organizations are able to mandate vaccines as a condition for entry, that cannot happen in schools because children younger than 12 are not yet eligible to receive vaccines. Many middle and high school students who are generally eligible to be immunized have not received the shots. Some districts, however, are looking to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for teachers and staff members. Those in the U.S. who are pushing for COVID-19 vaccine mandates for eligible children in schools point to the fact that such requirements are already largely in place for other diseases. But without full FDA approval, such mandates are less likely to happen.

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