ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — The last few years have been rough on parents.

With school and business closures, parents have faced wage loss, the elimination of child care and the prospect of guiding their children’s education as they navigated digital learning.

What You Need To Know

  • A local pollster says parents don't feel heard by school districts

  • The poll, conducted by Newport Beach-based Probolsky research drew from 900 respondents across California

  • It covered a variety of demographics, both parties and took responses from registered voters

  • 50% indicated it was time to "take back control of our schools" while 31% disagreed and 19% were unsure

And the return of in-person classes hasn't always been smooth. The ever undulating infection rates of COVID-19 have regularly forced difficult conversations about mask and vaccine mandates. Even the values of the education system have spurred debate as critical race theory has become a hot-button issue.

Adam Probolsky, of Newport Beach-based Probolsky Research, wanted to test just how disgruntled California parents might be toward schools. He saw what happened in the Virginia Gubernatorial race that saw Republican Glenn Youngkin defeat Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

That race was a national battleground for critical race theory, the Republican win leading to proclamations of victory by some conservatives that heavy-handed political teachings in school wouldn’t be tolerated by voters.

But Probolsky said parents' discontent is less specific than that. While some parents may raise an eyebrow at critical race theory, or changes in the math curriculum or even demand their students be allowed to attend class without a vaccine or mask, he said it’s more about engagement.

Youngkin’s campaign and victory were the geneses for the poll. One McAuliffe supporter had brandished the sign “keep parents out of our schools” which was the source of Probolsky’s interest in testing the inverse. 

According to the poll, 50% of respondents wanted to “take back control of our schools” the question itself, Probolsky said, serving as a stand-in for how parents feel about the relationship with school officials.

The data narrows in on Republicans, with 79% indicating they feel schools aren’t meeting the expectations of parents.

“I think there’s anger out there whether its COVID protocols or a new math curriculum or critical race theory,” Probolsky said.

National data has confirmed some of the discontent and worry parents have over how schools have handled, or their ability to handle, recent big-ticket concerns. 

Pew research from 2020 shows that parents with children who attended class in person were more likely to be satisfied than parents with children still at home.

Probolsky said this indicates a feeling among parents that they’ve lost their voice and can’t control or influence the school’s response to important issues. 

“It think the data we found may portend a greater engagement in school boards which we’ve already seen,” he said. “To me this is a flashing red light for school leaders first and foremost to say hey, we’ve got to change how we communicate with the public and we need a higher level of engagement.”

The data surfaced as local candidates have begun making their cases for the 2022 midterm elections. This data, he said, may provide some insight into important campaign talking points moving ahead.

Right now, schools largely communicate with parents through online portals, email chains, and meetings. Probolsky said his polling shows the existing methods aren’t enough.

“(Schools have) got to step up their game,” he said. “What this tells me is they’re losing their support from the public.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story referred to Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe as an "incumbent." This has been updated. (Dec. 8, 2021)