In less than two months, students nationwide will return for a strange, unprecedented school year. After a spring that saw the cancellation of almost every prom and in-person graduation ceremony, parents and children alike are anxious for what the fall might hold. School districts by and large are beginning to explore modifications to in-person learning, whether it’s through staggered attendance, isolating students to classrooms for lunch, or other changes. This has caused further uncertainty for parents, many of whom have already been saddled with three months without childcare.

When the pandemic effectively upended the school year for millions of students, school districts and universities were quickly forced to adopt Zoom classes and other virtual tools. At the university level, some students began to question and protest if they should be paying full tuition for an entirely different learning environment than they signed up for. For students in lower-income families, this created some additional roadblocks, like securing the necessary technology to attend class — not to mention children who were dependent on free lunch assistance at school. There’s hope to avoid some of these larger challenges in the fall, even if risk pervades and it looks far from normal.

With COVID-19 cases still surging to record-high daily rates in numerous states, there’s no accounting for how much further these routines could be uprooted in the coming months. According to a CivicScience study of more than 1,300 parents of children aged 3-17, a majority are at least somewhat comfortable with their kids resuming in-person learning this fall. However, more than one-third are not at all comfortable with the idea.

There are some meaningful distinctions across income. Parents making less than $50,000 are much more likely than higher earners to be not comfortable with their children returning to schools.

According to the CDC, coronavirus has waged a “disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups.” The parents surveyed by CivicScience reflect stark differences in comfort level across racial lines. Black parents polled were less likely to be comfortable with their children returning to in-person schooling in the fall than white parents. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black and Latinx communities, which we can likely attribute to their increased skepticism with in-person schooling among parents surveyed.

Virtual / Remote Learning

Besides the equipment accessibility issues presented by children suddenly being forced to learn from home, virtual classrooms are not popular with a majority of parents. More than half of parents surveyed strongly disagree that their children would be as successful outside of the traditional classroom. Under a third of parents seem amenable to virtual learning being an effective replacement for their kids. Whether or not they’re seeing the results and distractions firsthand while working from home, it’s a significant gap.

However, consistent with the general comfort levels, parents making less than $50,000 are more likely to strongly think their children can be equally successful with virtual learning.

Alternative Education

Although most parents prefer their kids return to traditional classrooms in the fall and have strong skepticism toward virtual learning, a small segment of parents are prepared to pursue alternative education methods if schools re-open. Just 16% of parents surveyed by CivicScience considered themselves very likely to seek alternative, full-time education in the fall.

Perhaps keeping with some of the broader comfort patterns, lower-income families are more likely than higher earners to exercise this added step of caution, despite any added costs that might be associated with the alternatives. That said, it’s still a relatively small number of parents who will be pulling their children from in-person classes in favor of homeschooling, co-op, cyberschool, or remote private schooling that de-emphasizes the use of technology.

With foundational social interactions uprooted without warning, it will likely take decades for sociologists and historians to parse the effects of children growing up during a pandemic and learning from home. In the eyes of most parents, the trend of remote learning has negatively impacted their children’s schooling. Although concerns abound with new case counts rising throughout the country, about half of all parents surveyed are willing to accept the risk and send their kids back to the classroom for a school year unlike any other.