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K-12 Parents Divided Over Mask Mandates in School

K-12 Parents Divided Over Mask Mandates in School

Story Highlights

  • 48% of parents want all students masked; 41% none; 11% only those unvaccinated
  • 48% want all teachers and staff masked; 38% none; 13% only those unvaccinated
  • 60% of 16- to 18-year-olds, 47% of 12- to 15-year-olds have been vaccinated

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As another school year begins in the age of COVID-19, mask mandates have become a flashpoint across the U.S., with parents on both sides of the issue clashing with each other, school administrators and political leaders. Gallup's latest polling finds that parents of K-12 students tilt more toward requiring masks than not, but the level of support for universal mask mandates for students, teachers and staff is below the majority level.

Among K-12 parents, 48% say all students should be required to wear masks at school regardless of their vaccination status, which is the current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics. At the same time, 41% say no students should be required to do so. Another 11% of parents believe masks should only be required for unvaccinated students.

Similarly, 48% of K-12 parents think all teachers and staff members should be required to wear masks, while 38% say no teachers or staff should be required to do so. Thirteen percent of parents think only those who are unvaccinated should have to wear masks.

K-12 Parents' Support for Mask Mandates in School
In terms of school policies regarding COVID-19, who should be required to wear face masks while attending school this fall?
K-12 parents
All students 48
No students 41
Only unvaccinated students 11
Teachers and staff
All teachers and staff 48
No teachers and staff 38
Only unvaccinated teachers and staff 13
Gallup Panel, Aug. 16-22, 2021

These findings are from Gallup's probability-based COVID-19 web panel survey, which was conducted Aug. 16-22 as the highly contagious delta variant continued to surge in the U.S. amid schools reopening or preparing to do so.

Even with the surge in COVID-19 cases, the vast majority of K-12 parents, 77%, say they expect their child will return to a pre-pandemic school schedule this year.

Vaccinations Among Children Aged 12 and Over Rising

The vaccination rate for children aged 12 to 15 lags that for children aged 16 to 18 -- presumably in large part because the vaccine did not receive authorization for the younger group until May, while those aged 16 and older were covered in the first authorization in December 2020.

Sixty percent of parents of children aged 16 to 18 report that their child has received a COVID-19 vaccine, marking a nine-percentage-point increase compared with the June/July average. At the same time, 47% of parents of children aged 12 to 15 say their child has received a vaccine. This is up eight points from June/July.

Although vaccinations among children aged 12 and older have risen over the past couple of months, the data suggest that the rate for each group may soon hit a wall. Just 7% of parents of 16- to 18-year-olds still plan to have their child inoculated, and 33% say they will not do so. While 33% is still a sizable figure, it has dropped from 41% in June/July, indicating that opposition has softened.

Parents of 12- to 15-year-olds express more hesitance about the vaccine, as 42% say their child will not receive it. Still, 11% of them indicate that they intend to have their child vaccinated. Each of these measures has decreased by five points since June/July as more children in this age group have been vaccinated.

Vaccination Status of Children Aged 12 and Older, Reported by Parents
Which of the following applies to your child? (If you have more than one child in this age range, please think about the youngest child.)
Jun/Jul 2021 Aug 2021 Change
% % pct. pts.
12 to 15 years old
Have received COVID-19 vaccine 39 47 +8
Plan to vaccinate them 16 11 -5
Do not plan to vaccinate them 47 42 -5
16 to 18 years old
Have received COVID-19 vaccine 51 60 +9
Plan to vaccinate them 10 7 -3
Do not plan to vaccinate them 41 33 -8
Gallup Panel

There is still no vaccine available to children younger than 12, but clinical trials are ongoing and expected to be complete sometime in the fall. Fifty-four percent of parents of children in this age group say they plan to have their child vaccinated once a vaccine is approved, but 46% say they will not do so. These figures have been stable since Gallup first asked the question in May.

K-12 Parents Less Concerned Than General Public About Unvaccinated People

Even though many school-aged children are not vaccinated and thereby particularly vulnerable to the delta variant, parents of K-12 students have been consistently less worried than the general public about people in their area choosing not to get vaccinated.

Since April when Gallup first asked Americans how worried they are about people in their area not getting vaccinated, majorities ranging from 53% to 60% have said they are "very" or "moderately" worried. The latest reading shows 60% are this concerned. Among K-12 parents, 51% are worried about unvaccinated people in their local area. Yet, 48% are not worried, including 37% who are "not worried at all."

U.S. Adults More Worried Than K-12 Parents About Unvaccinated People
How worried are you about people choosing not to get the COVID-19 vaccine in your local area?
K-12 parents U.S. adults
% %
Very worried 36 42
Moderately worried 15 18
Not too worried 11 12
Not worried at all 37 28
Gallup Panel, Aug. 16-22, 2021

Bottom Line

Last year's protests by some parents about their children's school not being open for full-time, in-person instruction have given way to protests about mask policies in school this year. Mask mandates are defended by those who support them as the best way to achieve normalcy this school year, but they are criticized by opponents as ineffective, dangerous and a violation of personal freedoms.

K-12 parents are as supportive of requiring universal masking for students as they are for teachers and staff members. However, that support does not reach majority level, and significant proportions of parents take the opposite position. Still, majorities of parents do think that at least unvaccinated students and staff should wear masks at school.

Schoolchildren aged 12 and older are increasingly getting vaccinated, and a majority of parents say they will have their younger children inoculated once a vaccine is approved for them. Yet, the delta variant is transmissible by and to those who are vaccinated. In addition to getting vaccinated if eligible, health experts continue to recommend masking indoors, social distancing and handwashing as the best ways to contain the spread of COVID-19.

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