Survey: Most Democratic Colorado Parents Support Students Wearing Masks In Schools, While Most Republican Parents Do Not

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Kindergarteners Nate (left) and Mac draw scary scarecrows during Carson Elementary’s Discovery Link after-school program. March 17, 2021.

Though COVID-19 is apolitical when it comes to who it infects, Colorado parents’ opinions on whether there should be mask mandates in schools to protect against it differ dramatically depending on which political party they belong to.

In a new survey, 83 percent of Democratic parents agree that students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade should be required to wear masks, while 79 percent of Republican parents disagree with a mask mandate for students. Among unaffiliated parents, 43 percent agree with mask mandates for students and 56 percent disagree with the mandate.

Overall, Colorado parents were evenly split on the issue with 48 percent agreeing that masks should be required and 50 percent disagreeing.

“Masking children is the least we can do, having children unprotected in schools is negligent,” said one respondent parent of an elementary school student who was supportive of masks. “This means all staff need to be vaccinated, and children need to be masked.”

A parent of a high school student opposed to masks, however, said: “Lack of facial expression seen by kids is affecting their overall acceptance and belonging. No one looks at each other anymore.”

The online survey of 516 parents and guardians of K-12 students in Colorado was conducted by Magellan Strategies, a Colorado-based firm that conducts resident and voter opinion surveys. The interviews were conducted from August 9 to 16. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.31 percent.

It's just one example of how politically divisive masks have become

Magellan’s Ryan Winger said the mask divide wasn’t surprising and shows how politicized the issue has become.

“It’s almost like you feel expected to take a certain position on it based on your other political leanings,” he said. “Which is something, unfortunately, happening more and more where you have an issue that shouldn’t be a partisan issue and shouldn’t be politicized ends up getting politicized.”

Winger said that after a year of the pandemic and the third school year that’s been impacted, “it's kind of reached a boil where there's a certain segment of the population that is just over it and wants to, if not get back to normal, at least get back to having that control over their own choices and how their kids' schooling is going to progress for the next year.” 

More women participated than men, nearly 80 percent of survey respondents were married, and nearly half were suburban and/or have high levels of education.

In Colorado, about 27 percent of children live in single-parent families. Thirty-six percent have a high school diploma as their highest level of education, according to the latest figures from Kids Count, an annual survey of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Despite every major health organization strongly recommending that vaccination is the best way to prevent sickness and death from COVID-19, just over half of parents support requiring teachers and staff to be vaccinated, while 45 percent oppose it. The survey didn’t ask about vaccine mandates for children and youth.

Parents in smaller towns and more rural areas were not as supportive of mandates as those within the Denver and suburban areas.

The pandemic has been challenging for districts and families alike

Surveyed parents weren’t just divided on masks. The survey also showed that the majority of parents, 53 percent, approved of the job the local school district did addressing the coronavirus, while 40 percent disapproved.

The pandemic tumult threw many families into a panic, suddenly without child care and the pedagogical skills needed to teach their own children, as they themselves struggled to continue working.

Colorado’s 178 school districts had to figure out how to continue teaching nearly 900,000 students across the state, thousands of whom lacked computers, reliable internet access, or computer skills. Districts were also charged with distributing millions of meals to food-insecure families.

Winger said some of the parental disapproval reflected the belief that some decisions — like quarantining young children — weren’t justified by science. He said much of the disapproval came from how changes were communicated to families. 

“They felt like every day that something new might change and they simply were unable to prepare for it,” Winger said. “It wasn't necessarily the decisions [that] the local school district [was] making, but it was the idea that going into any given day, you didn't know what was going to happen or whether your children were going to have to quarantine.”

In fact, respondents to the survey had the most trust in teachers to make good decisions about their student’s education, even over the judgment of other parents. Participants had the least trust in the U.S. Department of Education.

Parents are also concerned about their kids' education, and about school funding

But the poll did show that parents are overwhelmingly worried their children will need additional instruction on core subjects this school year.

The subject with the highest concern was math, at 58 percent very and somewhat concerned, followed by writing skills (57 percent), science (52 percent), history and social studies (50 percent), and reading skills (49 percent).

Nearly 80 percent of parents said their students would be returning to school in person for the upcoming school year. Still, 56 percent of parents feel that their student’s schools should offer both in-person learning and online learning. More than a third of parents believe schools should only offer in-person learning.

School funding was one area of the survey where a larger majority of parents agreed: Most parents, 63 percent, believe public schools in Colorado are underfunded, while only 22 percent of parents said they are not. When asked if they would support a modest tax increase to help fund their local school district, 58 percent of parents said yes and 34 percent said no.

Colorado’s per-pupil funding in 2020 was more than $1,500 below the national average per student.