Most Canadian parents are sending their kids back to classrooms, but half have concerns and misgivings about the safety of their province’s plan

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August 20, 2020 – Released in today’s Toronto Star, Pollara’s national survey of Canadian parents of schoolchildren reveals that while most are likely to send their kids back to in-class learning, about half have significant concerns and misgivings about the safety of their provincial government’s COVID-19 back-to-school plan. Indeed, more than a third prefer that the plan be improved to reduce COVID-related health risks, even if it delays the start of school.  

While many Canadians may have thought that back-to-school would be a time of reduced stress for parents, these findings suggest that the new school year is shaping up to be the opposite – a time of significantly higher stress due to concerns for children’s safety in the face of COVID-19.    

These are some of the findings of a new online survey conducted by Pollara Strategic Insights between August 11-16, 2020 amongst a randomly-selected sample ofN=879 Canadian parents with at least one child aged 16 or under who is enrolled in kindergarten, elementary school, or secondary school. Online surveys cannot officially be assigned a margin of error. A probability sample of this size carries a margin of error of ± 3.3%, 19 times out of 20.  The data were weighted to ensure that the sample reflect the gender and region distribution of the target population.

Overall, provincial government COVID-19 back-to-school plans are not inspiring high approval or confidence outside of Quebec. Nationally, about half (52%) of parents of schoolchildren approve of their provincial government’s back-to-school plan, with a third (35%) disapproving. Moreover, less than half of parents are confident (47%, vs. 43% not confident) that their province’s plan will protect their children from COVID-19.

  • Approval ratings vary across the country, with only Quebec and Manitoba registering majority approval. Parents in Ontario (46% approve vs. 42% disapprove) and Alberta (50% approve vs. 40% disapprove) are the most likely to disapprove of their provincial government’s plans. Notably, Quebec parents are – by far – the most likely to express approval (69% approve and 21% disapprove).
  • Parents in Alberta (38% confident vs. 54% not confident), BC (39% vs. 47%) and Ontario (43% vs. 48%) are the least confident that their provincial government’s plan will protect their children from COVID-19.  

When considering elements of their provincial government’s plan, a majority of parents believe it is based on the advice of health experts, but half feel the plan is rushed (50%), with overly large class sizes (53%) and inadequate social distancing (53%). Notably, less than half (39%) say their province’s plan is well thought out and detailed and only a quarter (27%) feel it is sufficiently funded.

  • Quebec parents are – by far – the most positive about all elements of their provincial government’s plan, whereas those in Alberta, Ontario, and BC have the most negative impressions.

Despite these concerns and criticisms, seven-in-ten (70%) parents say their schoolchildren are likely to return to in-class/in-school learning, whereas 14% say they are going back to online-only. A significant proportion (11%) are unsure. Another 3% say they are opting to home school their children themselves, and 3% say they will not allow their kids to return to school in any capacity until it is safe for them to return to in-class learning.

  • Ontario parents are the least likely to say their children will return to in-class/in-school instruction (63%) and the most likely to say their children will be opting for remote/online-only education instead (21%). On the other hand, Quebec parents (79%) are the most likely to send their children back to in-class learning.
  • Secondary school parents (74%) are more likely to send their children back to an in-class setting than parents of younger children (Elementary parents: 68%; Kindergarten parents: 66%).
  • Among parents sending kids back to an in-class setting, the main reasons for this choice are their view that educational progress, mental health, and socialization are important – and best achieved in-class.

However, although most parents are likely to send their kids back to the in-person classroom, only four-in-ten (43%) feel their provincial government’s plan is the best plan possible and should be attempted as-is. More than a third (36%) feel the plan is too risky and should be improved – even if it means delaying school start. Another 15% feel that COVID-19 still presents too great of a threat to permit to allow kids to return to in-class learning.

  • In Atlantic Canada and Quebec, the prevailing sentiment is that their current back-to-school plans are the best possible approach and should be attempted. However, in the other provinces/regions, parents are split or express plurality preference for improving the safety of the plan, even if this would delay the start of the school year.

For more details, including provincial/regional results, please see our report and the article in the Toronto Star.

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