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Michigan voters favor online school over in-person, poll shows

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

A majority of Michigan voters said it is safer for children to go to school online instead of in-person amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, according to a new Detroit News-WDIV poll.

The statewide survey of Michigan residents likely to vote in November found 50% favored online school for now, while 38% believed students should return to classes in person this fall. Another 7% supported a combination of in-person and virtual learning.

Responses to the survey, conducted by Lansing-based Glengariff Group, were on opposite sides of the spectrum among staunch Democrats and Republicans, said Glengarrif President Richard Czuba.

"There were drastic differences in how school should be held based on what party you vote for," he said. "If there's a shock to all of this, it's that something as nonpartisan as educating our kids has become one more partisan issue. It speaks to the depth to which there is this division occurring in all of our daily lives, and it's driven over how people are seeing the virus, which is driven by partisan politics."

Of the 600 likely voters surveyed, 78% of strong Democratic voters believed school should be held online. It was the opposite for Republicans, 75% of which said in-person school was preferred. 

Independent voters, which Czuba regarded as the state's "decision makers," favored online over face-to-face with 46% supporting virtual, compared with 35% against it.

Michigan's school districts have rolled out an array of learning plans for the fall that range from fully remote to an immediate in-person return, and hybrid plans with a mix of both. 

A Michigan State University study showed 86% of districts are offering some or all instruction in-person at the beginning of the school year, based on an analysis of the state's 832 traditional and charter school districts.

The study, conducted by MSU's Education Policy Innovation Collaborative in partnership with the Michigan Department of Education, found 59% of school districts are offering students an option to return to school five days a week, and 27% are providing students with the ability to return to schools at least two to three days a week.

Eight K-12 schools in Michigan that resumed classes have reported outbreaks of the virus since Aug. 20. 

The state's health department on Friday reported 105,377 confirmed cases of the virus and 6,526 deaths since March.

Beyond partisan politics, Czuba noted the race, gender and geographic location of the likely voters surveyed also played a role in their position on the question.

Male respondents were split between in person and online, with 45% supporting online and 44% opting for in-person. The majority of women — or 54% — said they would choose online over 32% of women who wanted kids to head back to school buildings.

White voters surveyed, he said, are split, with 44% wanting in-person and 44% wanting online. For Black voters, 77% said school should be online.

"Black Michiganders have been so disproportionately impacted by COVID," he said. "They particularly understand the threat of this.

Of outstate voters, 46% thought students should be in the classroom, while 41% said online. Metro Detroit respondents, meanwhile, favored online learning with 58% over 29% preferring in-person, Czuba said.

"Southeast Michigan was drastically harder hit than the outstate area," he said. "They are frankly more gun-shy on this issue than people who didn't experience the worst of it in the more rural parts of the state."

The survey sample was conducted Sept. 1-3, with half of the respondents being contacted via landline and the other half by cellphone. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. 

cferretti@detroitnews.com