COVID-19 and K-12 Schools

Are K-12 schools keeping kids healthy? What do Oregonians think about school mask mandates?

image: masked children and teacher in classroom

From October 8-18, 2021, the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center conducted a statewide survey of Oregonians’ values and beliefs, including on the impact of COVID-19 on our community. The questions were intended to gather preliminary data to inform more in-depth research in the months ahead.

The online survey consisted of 1,403 Oregon residents ages 18+ and took approximately 15 minutes to complete. Demographic quotas and statistical weighting were used to ensure a representative sample. Based on a 95% confidence interval, this survey’s margin of error, for the full sample, ranges from ±1.6% to ±2.6% depending on how the response category percentages split for any given question. Due to rounding, numbers may not add up to 100%.

Respondents were contacted by using professionally maintained online panels. In gathering responses, a variety of quality control measures were employed, including questionnaire pre-testing, validation, and real-time monitoring of responses. To ensure a representative sample, demographic quotas were set, and data weighted by area of the state, gender, age, and education.

This survey uses aggregated data to analyze the opinions of BIPOC residents in comparison to the opinions of residents who identify as white and not another race. BIPOC residents are not a monolith; the grouping represents a wide diversity of races and ethnicities. The findings included in this memo should not be construed such that all people of color are believed to share the same opinions. Disaggregated race data will be provided when sample sizes permit reliability.

The question numbers in this document correspond with the survey questionnaire and tabs which can be downloaded at the bottom of this page (Q1-21).

Schools: Oregonians’ Satisfaction with Precautions

  • A plurality of Oregonians (47%) feel their area’s K-12 schools are doing a good job keeping students safe and minimizing the spread of COVID-19. Two in ten (19%) do not think they are doing a good job and a sizable 34% are unsure. Oregonians with school-age children are more likely than those without kids to think their area’s K-12 schools are doing a good job (64% vs. 40%) (Q1).

  • Slightly more than two in ten (23%) Oregonians say that outbreaks in schools in their area have been a problem, compared to nearly twice (44%) who say they have not. Again, a sizable percentage (33%) are unsure, primarily non-parents. This is understandable given that Oregonians without kids in the home are less likely to be in contact with their area’s K-12 schools (Q2).
  • Oregonians are three times more likely to be satisfied than dissatisfied with their area school’s plan/guidelines for notifying students and parents in the case of COVID-19 exposure or outbreak (47% satisfied vs. 16% dissatisfied). Again, a high percentage (37%) are unsure. It is encouraging that a strong rate of those with children at home (67%) are satisfied with their area school’s plans and guidelines (Q3).
  • Where appropriate, school districts may wish to increase communication with non-parents to build community trust and awareness regarding their COVID-19 plans and precautions.

Vaccine and Mask Mandates

Roughly six in ten Oregonians (57%) support vaccine mandates for children ages 12 years and older, while 33% are opposed and 11% are unsure.

  • Two-thirds of those living in Tri-County  support vaccine mandates for children 12 and older, while less than half of those living in Rest of State (outside Tri-County and Willamette Valley support a mandate (66% vs. 48%).
  • Only 45% of parents support a vaccine mandate for children age 12 and older, compared to 61% of non-parents. This is likely indicative of continued concerns over long-term side effects of vaccination, as well as a lower probability of severe symptoms and hospitalization among infected children.

A stronger majority of Oregonians (70%) support mask mandates in schools, with 23% opposed and 6% unsure. A majority of both parents with school-age children and non-parents support mask mandates in schools (65% and 72%, respectively) (Q6).

Masks in Schools

Masks in schools appear to have strong overall support, with a majority of Oregonians saying masks do not jeopardize any of the following, or, if they do, should be mandated regardless:

  • Children’s health and/or safety (72% say masks do not jeopardize these things or should be mandated regardless) (Q8)
  • Children’s and families’ freedom (69%) (Q7)
  • Children’s learning capacity/potential/outcomes (68%) (Q9)
  • Teachers’ instructional effectiveness (65%) (Q10)

Increasing Funding and Taxes

Eight in ten Oregonians (79%) would support increasing state funding for local school districts to support programs to help students who have fallen behind because of COVID-19, compared to 12% in opposition. A majority of all age, gender, education, income, geographic, ethnic, and political groups support such a proposal (Q4).

One half (50%) say they would be willing to pay more in taxes to allow schools to decrease class sizes, while 37% are opposed and 13% are unsure. Women are more likely than men to say they would support such a tax increase (54% vs. 44%) (Q11).

Fewer than four in ten (36%) say they would support paying more in taxes to allow schools to add more bus routes with fewer students per bus, while 48% are opposed and 16% are unsure. Support decreases with age, from 42% among those aged 18-29 to 23% among those ages 75 and older (Q12).

More than six in ten (63%) say they would support paying more in taxes to allow schools to upgrade facilities to increase health and safety like HVAC systems, covered outdoor areas for eating and recreation, with 27% in opposition and 9% unsure. Safety upgrades like these tend to get high support from survey respondents and are supported here by more than 60% of both parents and non-parents alike (Q13).

Concern About Spread Among Students

Oregonians are largely split on whether vaccinated students waiting on COVID-19 test results should be allowed to continue attending school in person, with 45% saying they should not and 41% saying they should be allowed to attend (Q14).

Oregonians are also split on their concern about students and/or their child(ren) contracting COVID-19 from a teacher or staff member, with 46% saying they are unconcerned and 42% saying they are concerned. Women show higher concern than men (45% vs. 38%) (Q15).

Nearly six in ten (56%) say they are concerned about students and/or their child(ren) contracting COVID-19 from another student, while 34% are unconcerned and 10% are unsure. Again, the concern is higher among women than men (61% vs. 49%). It will be interesting to track results for this question over time as more children get vaccinated (Q16).

More than six in ten (64%) say they are very or somewhat concerned about children passing COVID-19 to another family member. Three in ten (31%) are not at all or not very concerned. Again, women are more concerned than men (69% vs. 59%), a clear trend in this survey (Q17).

Additionally, nearly seven in ten (67%) are very or somewhat concerned about children becoming seriously ill and/or hospitalized from COVID-19. Again, women are more concerned than men (72% vs. 61%).

Demographic Trends

Identifying What Unites Us, Understanding What Divides Us

Reported below are statistically significant subgroup differences between BIPOC and white Oregonians, urban and rural Oregonians, and age groups.  Many of these differences are not major and are presented to inform public education and communications initiatives. 

  • BIPOC Oregonians are slightly more likely than white Oregonians to say that COVID-19 outbreaks in schools in their area have been a problem (29% vs. 23%) (Q2).
  • BIPOC and white Oregonians show nearly equal support for vaccine mandates for children 12 years and older (54% and 57%, respectively) and mask mandates in schools (68% and 70%, respectively) (Q5-6).
  • On nearly all questions regarding concern about the spread and severity of COVID-19, BIPOC Oregonians express greater concern than whites, whether about their own children or children in general.
  • Urban and rural Oregonians are largely in alignment on whether they feel their area’s K-12 schools are doing a good job keeping students safe and minimizing the spread of COVID-19, with 44% and 48% responding affirmatively, respectively (Q1).
  • Notably, urbanites are more likely than their rural counterparts to be unsure if outbreaks in schools in their area have been a problem (40% vs. 28%), an area of potential communications outreach for urban school districts (Q2).
  • Urban Oregonians are more likely than their rural counterparts to support vaccine mandates for children 12 years and older (60% vs. 42%) and mask mandates in schools (73% vs. 61%) (Q5-6).
  • While Oregonians of all ages are strongly supportive of mask mandates in schools (67-74% support), older Oregonians ages 65 and above (72-75%) are significantly more likely than Oregonians ages 18-44 (45-52%) to support vaccine mandates for children ages 12 and older (Q5-6).
  • While Oregonians overall are split on whether vaccinated students waiting on COVID-19 test results should be allowed to continue attending school in person, younger Oregonians are more likely to say such students should not be allowed to attend, whereas their older counterparts felt they should be allowed to attend. This is an interesting finding, as older Oregonians are more vulnerable to COVID-19 (Q14).

This research was completed as a community service by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, an independent and non-partisan organization. OVBC is an Oregon charitable nonprofit corporation (www.oregonvbc.org).

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