Just 5 Percent of Parents Want Unions to Have Final Say on Return to Classroom

Chairs, desk and other school furniture is stacked outside a classroom at a public elementary school in Glendale, California just north of Los Angeles, August 17, 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. / Getty Images
March 10, 2021

As labor groups across the country impose a laundry list of preconditions to reopen public schools, just 5 percent of parents say teachers' unions should have the final say on a return to in-person learning.

A poll of 1,002 parents shows that teachers' unions rank among the least-trusted groups to make decisions on school reopenings and general "learning needs." Just 2 percent of parents report trusting teachers' unions most to "make good decisions" about how "schools should be educating students." When it comes to who should make the "final decision" on a return to in-person learning, parents rank teachers' unions second-to-last, just 1 point higher than the children themselves.

Despite parents' misgivings, many major U.S. school districts continue to delay in-person learning due to union demands. In California, Democratic governor Gavin Newsom planned to open schools first by mid-February and later by the end of March. But both proposals failed in the state's largest district following pushback from United Teachers Los Angeles. The powerful union derided the reopening push as a "recipe for propagating structural racism." Union leaders reached a deal Tuesday night to return to the classroom in mid-April under one condition—that all teachers receive two vaccine doses first, a stipulation that contradicts CDC guidelines.

While teachers' unions historically boast strong ties to the Democratic Party, 41 percent of poll respondents identified as Democrats compared to just 27 percent who identified as Republicans. The figure could cause concern for President Joe Biden, who has drawn ire from critics over his longstanding relationships with top union leaders. The Democrat raked in more than $225,000 from teachers' unions in the 2020 election cycle—more than any other candidate—and received endorsements from the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers. The two unions also gave millions to super PACs supporting Biden.

The National Parents Union—a parent advocacy group cofounded by former Service Employees International Union organizer Keri Rodrigues—released the poll Monday. Rodrigues accused teachers' unions of muddying the waters as parents look for guidance on their children's education.

"We are a year into the biggest educational disruption most of us will experience in our lifetimes and policymakers still don't have a handle on how to resume safe in-person learning," Rodrigues said. "Parents are grappling with hard decisions and certainly the noise coming from teachers' unions is not making things any easier."

The poll includes responses from 1,002 parents of K-12 public school students and was conducted from Feb. 12 to Feb. 22. In addition to its union-related findings, the survey shows that 58 percent of parents would choose some form of in-person learning for their children if given the option. Thirty-two percent backed an in-person-only approach, while 26 percent preferred a hybrid of online and in-person instruction.

Just 37 percent of parents, meanwhile, said they would not send their children to school unless all teachers received a vaccination. CDC head Rochelle Walensky has asserted on multiple occasions that teachers do not need to be vaccinated for schools to reopen safely. But the White House dismissed Walensky's guidance in February, claiming that she "spoke in her personal capacity." 

The Biden administration has also contradicted itself on its promise to reopen schools during the president's first 100 days in office. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in February that Biden aimed to have "more than 50 percent of schools" teaching "at least one day a week" by day 100—a benchmark that the country had already met. Biden later called the statement a "mistake in communication" and said he wants schools open "five days a week."