Back-to-school COVID jitters have parents and teachers more anxious than ever before

NEW YORK — Three-fourths of America’s teachers are more worried than ever over how prepared their students will be for school this fall.

The recent survey of 2,000 respondents — including 1,000 parents of school-aged children and 1,000 K-12 teachers — finds that for both groups, anxiety is higher than it’s ever been for the upcoming 2021-2022 school year.

More than half the poll (54%) say the back-to-school season is filling them with more anxiety than they would have had before the pandemic.

Back-to-lockdown season?

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Office Depot, results also showed that for parents, the main concern is one of safety. Half of parents say their biggest fear involves their child contracting COVID-19, while 40 percent worry most about the safety and cleanliness of the school.

For teachers, academics are the biggest worry. Fifty-seven percent worry about their students having fallen behind academically over the last year. As for what’s important in the year ahead, teachers rank inclusivity in the classroom (92%) as their most important priority for the school year. Helping students feel more confident (91%) followed closely behind, with 80 percent also listing cleaning protocols as important.

Despite some uncertainties, both teachers and parents are working harder than ever to help students prepare for the coming school year. Parents are spending this summer preparing their children for school by talking through their concerns about the upcoming year (60%), making sure their conversations about returning to school are positive (56%), preparing them for their school routine (54%), and buying back-to-school supplies early (51%).

For teachers, almost nine in 10 are prioritizing getting their students back on track after a year of remote learning.

“This year’s return to the classroom is going to require flexibility from parents, teachers and students,” says John Gannfors, executive vice president and chief merchandising and supply chain officer for Office Depot, in a statement. “That’s a big reason why we’re seeing back-to-school shopping lists that include everything from pens and notebooks to Chromebooks, headphones and hand sanitizer.”

Supply chain woes

Seventy-nine percent of parents say that having the right supplies will help their child feel confident when they return to school this year. However, six in 10 parents have a smaller budget for school supplies this year than ever before and 65 percent admit the cost of back-to-school supplies makes them anxious.

For teachers, the cost of classroom supplies is also a cause of concern — they expect to spend an average of $285.50 of their own money on supplies this year, while one in five will spend $401 or more.

“We know teachers are working hard to get their students back on track after last year. We want to help them get the most value for their budgets and assist them in creating an optimal educational experience for their students,” Gannfors adds.

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