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Plans of US Parents Regarding School Attendance for Their Children in the Fall of 2020A National Survey

Educational Objective
To understand how parents are preparing their children for the reopening of schools in the Fall
1 Credit CME
Key Points

Question  What do parents plan to do about school attendance in the fall of 2020, and what factors are influencing these plans?

Findings  In this survey study of 730 US parents of school-aged children, 31% of parents indicated they will probably or definitely keep their child home this fall if schools open for in-person instruction. Factors associated with planning to keep children home were lower household income, not being employed, and whether those employed had a flexible and controllable work schedule.

Meaning  Outreach to help families make decisions about school attendance should focus on addressing the concerns of families with low income.


Importance  As schools consider reopening for in-person instruction prior to availability of a coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine, families may be weighing their priorities regarding school attendance.

Objective  To characterize the association of planned in-person school attendance during the COVID-19 pandemic with factors, including family socioeconomic characteristics, and parent attitudes and beliefs about their child’s school attendance.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Cross-sectional survey study. Data were collected from June 2, 2020, to June 5, 2020, weighted to reflect population norms, and analyzed using ordered probit regression. A sample of US parents (of children ages 5-17 years) were recruited using a nonprobability survey panel with stratification by socioeconomic characteristics.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The main outcome was parent-reported plan to send their child to school or keep their child home, conditional on their school opening for in-person instruction. Additional measures assessed family socioeconomic characteristics, medical vulnerability, worry about COVID-19 and multisystem inflammatory syndrome, confidence in their child’s school, and homeschooling difficulties.

Results  The sample of 730 parents was balanced by parent sex (53% women) with successful oversampling for Black (28%; n = 201) and Hispanic (27%; n = 200) participants. In estimates weighted to US population norms, 31% (95% CI, 27% to 34%) of participants indicated they would probably or definitely keep their child home this fall, and 49% indicated that they would probably or definitely send their child to school this fall. Factors associated with planning to keep children home included lower income (38% with incomes <$50 000 vs 21% with incomes $100 000-$150 000 per year; difference, 17%; 95% CI, 9% to 26%), being unemployed (40% unemployed vs 26% employed; difference, 14%; 95% CI, 5% to 25%), and having a flexible job (33% with flexible jobs vs 19% with inflexible jobs; difference, 14%; 95% CI, 5% to 30%). Planning to keep children home was also associated with fear of COVID-19 (B = 0.19; P < .001), fear of multisystem inflammatory syndrome (B = 0.12; P = .04), confidence in schools (B = −0.22; P < .001), and challenges of homeschooling (B = −0.12; P = .01). Race and ethnicity were not significantly associated with plans to keep children home.

Conclusions and Relevance  In this survey study, many parents planned to keep children home in fall 2020. Schools need to act soon to address parental concerns and provide options for what will be available for them should they opt to keep their child home. Structural barriers, such as lack of workplace flexibility and potential school-level inequities in implementation of preventive measures, must be acknowledged and addressed where possible.

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Article Information

Corresponding Author: Emily Kroshus, ScD, MPH, Seattle Children's Research Institute, 2001 Eighth Ave, Seattle, WA 98105 (ekroshus@u.washington.edu).

Accepted for Publication: July 30, 2020.

Published Online: August 14, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.3864

Author Contributions: Drs Kroshus and Hawrilenko had full access to all of the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Concept and design: All authors.

Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Kroshus, Hawrilenko, Christakis.

Drafting of the manuscript: Kroshus, Hawrilenko.

Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Hawrilenko, Tandon, Christakis.

Statistical analysis: Hawrilenko.

Administrative, technical, or material support: Kroshus.

Supervision: Christakis.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Disclaimer: Dr Christakis is Editor of JAMA Pediatrics, but he was not involved in any of the decisions regarding review of the manuscript or its acceptance.

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