By Jonah Chester
Virginia News Connection
Virginia schools have become a political battleground over mask mandates in recent months, but a new poll indicates a majority of parents support the steps teachers and administrators are taking to keep COVID out of classrooms.
The American Federation of Teachers survey showed nearly 80 percent of parents are satisfied with how schools have handled the pandemic.
Thomas Calhoun, president of the Norfolk Federation of Teachers, said containing the coronavirus spread is one of the most pressing issues facing teachers this school year.
“Teachers have families, too,” Calhoun pointed out. “They’re extremely concerned about keeping their families safe and not carrying anything home to their families.”
Last week, Gov. Glenn Youngkin lifted blanket mask mandates in schools, allowing parents to opt their students out of those policies. Youngkin, and Republicans in the General Assembly, argued participating in such public health measures is a matter of personal choice.
The poll found one of parents’ biggest concerns is a shortage of teachers, with 65 percent saying they were “fairly or very concerned” about it.
Calhoun emphasized he believes not enough is being done to address the underlying causes of teacher shortages, and predicts they may worsen for the 2022-2023 school year.
“I know it’s nationwide,” Calhoun noted. “I can tell you personally, from here in the city of Norfolk, if it’s a position that has anything to do with public education, there’s a shortage.”
A support staff shortage is another of the most pressing issues for parents, with 75 percent in the poll indicating concern over a lack of school nurses, guidance counselors and social workers. Hart Research Associates and Lake Research Partners surveyed more than 1,300 parents of public school children, with a margin of error of just over 3 percent.