Most California voters want schools to require safeguards like face masks, proper ventilation and social distancing in classrooms, and COVID-19 testing and tracing before schools return for in-person instruction, according to poll released Thursday by the California Teachers Association.

Sixty percent of those polled said these safeguards and access to a nurse, daily health screenings, smaller class sizes and continued distance learning for students and teachers with medical conditions are all essential to reopening schools. The poll found that 85% of California voters surveyed expect school districts to make “major changes” to prevent the spread of the virus.

The online poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates between Sept. 18 and Sept. 25, asked 1,295 registered voters, including 527 parents, to answer questions about how and when California schools should reopen. Researchers polled a sample of California voters who matched the demographics of California voters overall, said Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates.

Researchers found that 62% of voters would not be comfortable sending their children to school at this time.

Most voters, 63%, support the state’s four-tiered system that allows counties to reopen schools if infection rates in the community are low. Four out of 10 said that schools should not reopen without a vaccine, although most would make an exception for small group instruction for special needs students, according to a summary of the findings.

“It makes only common sense that we look at the science, and we take care of our students and our teachers,” said E. Toby Boyd, president of the California Teachers Association during a press conference Thursday. “Before we open schools, we can’t do it unless we are safe. And that has been what we’ve been saying. And the research has showed us that we have been on the right track.”

The findings of the poll support the position of the California Teachers Association, which outlined its concerns about reopening campuses in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins on Sept. 16.

Concerns about COVID-19 testing, tracing in schools

Among the union’s primary concerns is a lack of COVID-19 testing and tracing in schools. The letter called on the state to put a system of testing and tracing in place for students and staff. A state plan to test 100,000 people a day beginning Nov. 1 will be too late for schools in 25 counties eligible to reopen schools now, the letter says.

Schools should be prepared for outbreaks of COVID-19 and have plans in place to test students and staff, and to trace infections, said Robert Harrison, a professor at the UC San Francisco and a specialist in occupational medicine.

“It is clear from both a workplace and a community perspective that keeping teachers and staff safe from COVID-19 in schools will also help keep our students and their families safe as well,” Harrison said during Thursday’s press conference.

California voters are not optimistic about the next year when it comes to the spread of the coronavirus. Nearly 80% of the voters contacted for the poll consider the spread of the virus to be a serious problem in the state. More than half of the voters polled said that they expect that the worse is yet to come in terms of the spread of the virus.

More than half of those polled felt that the health and safety of students, staff and their families should be considered first when deciding when and how to reopen a school campus. A fifth felt that avoiding community spread of the virus should be the most important factor to consider.

An EdSource poll released last week found that nearly three-quarters of voters surveyed say schools need additional funding to implement safety practices vital to reopening school campuses. The California Teachers Association poll found that 80% of voters believe more funding is needed.

“We are facing a $12.5 billion deficit next year,” said Boyd in reference to California K-12 schools and community colleges. “That’s insurmountable. And it’s nothing like I’ve ever seen in my 26 years of teaching. It is bigger than what happened in 2008.”

Story originally published by EdSource.