But the beleaguered educators who stood up to their critics and offered aggressive school-based responses to combat the coronavirus are receiving largely positive marks for their efforts from Virginians, according to a new University of Mary Washington 1,000-person statewide survey conducted by Research America Sept. 7-13.
In a sharp contrast from the views expressed by many who spoke at contentious public meetings over the summer, only 18 percent of Virginians surveyed said their local school district’s coronavirus policies were too strict. Forty percent of the survey’s respondents said their local school district’s policies relating to the coronavirus were just about right, and 20 percent said the local schools were too lenient. The rest were undecided.
In Northern Virginia, where many school districts imposed mask-required policies before the governor’s statewide K-12 mask mandate, the results largely mirrored statewide assessments, with 20 percent saying their local district was too strict, 14 percent saying too lenient and 43 percent saying just about right. The rest were undecided.
Asked to grade their local school district polices on the coronavirus on an A-to-F scale, where A is excellent, C is adequate and F signifies a failure, Northern Virginians once again had positive assessments: 13 percent of Northern Virginians surveyed gave their local districts an A, 25 percent said B, and 22 percent favored a C grade. Only 11 percent offered an F grade, and 9 percent of Northern Virginians said their local district deserved a D grade. The rest were undecided.
Though many people have been frustrated over the profound educational challenges posed by the pandemic, this survey shows that only a small minority of Virginians objects to the path their local school districts have taken in response to this once-in-a-century crisis. Overall, only 11 percent of those surveyed across the state gave their local district a failing grade of F, and 11 percent gave the local district a D grade.
Residents of northwestern Virginia, a largely conservative region along the Interstate 81 corridor, were most critical of their local school districts. But not by much: Even in one of the commonwealth’s redder regions, only 14 percent of respondents said their local school districts deserved an F.
People surveyed statewide who had not received a coronavirus vaccine were more critical than those who had been vaccinated, with 25 percent of the former and 15 percent of the latter saying their local school district was too strict.
Some of the biggest differences were shaped by an individual’s partisan loyalties, as one might have expected given President Biden’s aggressive efforts to respond to the coronavirus this year, compared with President Donald Trump’s frequent efforts to minimize the pandemic in 2020. Among respondents who said they favored the Democratic Party, 6 percent said their local school district’s response was too strict. Among Republicans, 32 percent said their district was too strict. For independents, 24 percent objected to their local district’s policies as too strict.
With these partisan cleavages on this high-priority issue, it is no surprise that Democratic gubernatorial nominee and former governor Terry McAuliffe is offering a more aggressive response to coronavirus than is Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin. Both are running where many of their most ardent supporters are, at least when it comes to school policies relating to the coronavirus.