• Written by Sherman Dorn, Professor of Education, Arizona State University

A New York City mother said she kept her son in remote schooling during the pandemic because she believes city education officials “lie a lot.”[1]

“These buildings are old and don’t have proper ventilation,” she explained to journalist Melinda Anderson. “They don’t have the supplies they need, and they don’t even have nurses.”

One of the nation’s teachers’ union leaders has also heard repeatedly[2] that teachers too often haven’t seen soap or running water in school bathrooms.

Teachers in Chandler, Arizona, accused their school board of breaking promises[3] to close schools if COVID-19 became widespread locally.

A New Jersey mother wanting her child to attend school in person “lost a lot of faith in the district” and may send her child to Catholic school in the fall of 2021 after she experienced repeated, unpredictable openings and closings in her local public school[4].

All of these situations represent cases where trust broke down between parents or teachers and the schools in their communities. While much news coverage and debate during the pandemic has been about things like wearing masks[5] and adequate spacing between students[6] and ventilation[7], the topic of trust seems to get much less attention.

As an education historian[8], I believe that if the importance of trust is continually ignored or overlooked, it could have serious consequences for the nation’s schools.

Racial factors at play

Trust in school safety varies among communities.

In national polling[9], white parents were far more likely than other parents to favor sending their children to in-person schooling during the pandemic. The stark racial differences should not be surprising given that Black and Hispanic communities have been more severely affected by COVID-19[10]. But pandemic vulnerability is not the only difference.

A parent leader in Memphis, Tennessee, told a reporter[11] of her community’s reaction to the idea of returning students to school: “For generations, these public schools have failed us and prepared us for prison, and now it’s like they’re preparing us to pass away.”

An Asian American family wearing masks stand together. Asian American parents are worried about the harassment their children may face going back to school. Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images[12]

Asian American parents in Chicago, New York City and Fairfax, Virginia, have also been more likely than those cities’ white parents to keep their children in remote schooling[13]. A key factor has been a desire to protect their children from anti-Asian attacks that have escalated during the pandemic[14]. These attacks are widely believed to be a byproduct of the blame[15] that President Donald J. Trump has heaped upon China as being responsible for the spread of COVID-19.

How should these different levels of distrust from different segments of society be understood?

Elements of trust

The key is relational trust, a term coined by sociologists Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider[16]. Relational trust deals with how much people see unity of purpose around them. Do they believe that the people they depend on have the right intentions, essential competence and integrity to work for the common good?

In schools “that operate in turbulent external environments,” teachers and other school staff risk their professional careers and sense of self on the job. Parents risk their children’s and families’ futures. Given the high stakes involved – that is to say, people’s health and safety – relational trust is essential.

In a pandemic, it has become more obvious that educators and students often work and study[17] in buildings where plumbing – and especially heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems[18] – need major repairs.

The physical condition of schools is critical. A wealth of research[19] has shown that the school environment can influence student academic achievement, as well as student health[20].

But with the pandemic – and news reporting of failure by the federal government and many state governments[21] – relational trust is one of the casualties.

White House push for teacher vaccinations

The Biden administration addressed relational trust when it pushed states in early March 2021[22] to prioritize teachers and other school staff for vaccinations. By the end of the month, all teachers were eligible for vaccines in 46 states and the District of Columbia[23].

Americans agree with an emphasis on vaccinating educators: in a February national poll[24], 59% of surveyed American adults said that schools should wait until all teachers had the chance to be vaccinated before completely reopening.

State officials can ask whether key decisions might erode relational trust. For example, should students who are learning remotely be required to step into a school for achievement testing? The Biden administration is not waiving all testing requirements[25], but it is discouraging the idea that students must “be brought into school buildings for the sole purpose of taking a test.”

Building trust among parents and teachers is key to reopening schools Listening to the needs and concerns of parents is one step schools can take to build relational trust. Spencer Platt/Getty Images[26]

In contrast, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran has decreed[27] that all students must take tests in person. Parents want state and school officials to respect their judgment of whether to send children back just for tests[28]. If education leaders want to build more relational trust with parents, it will include letting them manage risk to their children.

Investing in safety

Beyond the 2020-21 school year, relational trust can be built if public money is invested in what will keep students and staff safe.

The Biden administration’s infrastructure plan has one component of this: US$45 billion[29] to remove pollution sources such as lead-lined pipes from schools and day care centers.

With the pandemic focusing attention on the dangers of being inside, remediating lead, asbestos and other pollution sources should help build relational trust. The lead crisis in Flint, Michigan’s water supply is only the most visible example; tests found elevated levels of lead in 37% of schools where drinking water was tested[30].

Addressing facility conditions also requires giving more authority to employees to raise environmental and health concerns. In Chicago, for example, a new labor contract includes a provision for school safety committees[31].

[Insight, in your inbox each day. You can get it with The Conversation’s email newsletter[32].]

Ways to build trust

The theory of relational trust suggests schools need to build respect and bring the community into school operations and decision-making. Bringing in the community can look as simple as a bilingual outreach program to parents around college attendance[33] or a program to hire parents as family liaisons to the school district[34]. Or, with organizations that specialize in this work[35], education leaders can bring schools, parents and community members together to define and solve shared problems[36].

It may sound squishy to assume that parents and communities bring unique wisdom[37]. But even done imperfectly, this kind of convening helps to build relational trust.

As researchers hear from parents, direct experience with schools that respect parental perspectives changes their relationship with schools:

“I have more coraje (courage) now” in raising concerns with school officials, one parent explained to[38] educational leadership scholar Susan Auerbach[39].

“Here you come and how can I say it, with confianza: There is trust here,” another parent told[40] education professor Ann M. Ishimaru[41] and her colleagues. “We already know this place and other teachers help us more with the children.”


  1. ^ “lie a lot.” (
  2. ^ heard repeatedly (
  3. ^ breaking promises (
  4. ^ repeated, unpredictable openings and closings in her local public school (
  5. ^ wearing masks (
  6. ^ spacing between students (
  7. ^ ventilation (
  8. ^ education historian (
  9. ^ national polling (
  10. ^ more severely affected by COVID-19 (
  11. ^ told a reporter (
  12. ^ Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images (
  13. ^ keep their children in remote schooling (
  14. ^ escalated during the pandemic (
  15. ^ byproduct of the blame (
  16. ^ term coined by sociologists Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider (
  17. ^ often work and study (
  18. ^ heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (
  19. ^ wealth of research (
  20. ^ student academic achievement, as well as student health (
  21. ^ news reporting of failure by the federal government and many state governments (
  22. ^ pushed states in early March 2021 (
  23. ^ 46 states and the District of Columbia (
  24. ^ February national poll (
  25. ^ not waiving all testing requirements (
  26. ^ Spencer Platt/Getty Images (
  27. ^ has decreed (
  28. ^ respect their judgment of whether to send children back just for tests (
  29. ^ US$45 billion (
  30. ^ where drinking water was tested (
  31. ^ provision for school safety committees (
  32. ^ You can get it with The Conversation’s email newsletter (
  33. ^ a bilingual outreach program to parents around college attendance (
  34. ^ family liaisons to the school district (
  35. ^ organizations that specialize in this work (
  36. ^ to define and solve shared problems (
  37. ^ parents and communities bring unique wisdom (
  38. ^ one parent explained to (
  39. ^ educational leadership scholar Susan Auerbach (
  40. ^ another parent told (
  41. ^ Ann M. Ishimaru (

Authors: Sherman Dorn, Professor of Education, Arizona State University

Read more

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

Ny’a: My Musical Journey

It’s been such an amazing musical journey. Starting my career in the late 1990’s and selling over 500,000 copies of my debut album “Embrace” worldwide was the beginning of it all.  It was an incredible start of my career. It was a whirlwind for m...

Ny’a - avatar Ny’a

Pro Tips for Gambling Online

While online gambling sounds like an entertaining thing to spend your afternoons playing, it is also serious business for professional players. Those that take gambling seriously know all the tips and tricks that make a good game. Not only do the...

News Co - avatar News Co

The New Art: Balancing Human and Synth in Music Creation

It’s a great time to be alive for indie music makers! There are many of us, maybe including you, who are creating good music out there, armed with nothing but our own ingenuity and the few dollars in our shallow pockets. But what’s the best way to ...

Angela Predhomme - avatar Angela Predhomme

An unstoppable force in indie R&B music since her re-emergence in 2015, Ny’a releases “Waiting”

An unstoppable force in indie R&B music since her re-emergence in 2015, Ny’a has topped the World Indie and Euro Indie Charts countless times, hit the R&B Soul Chart and Club Music Chart Top 20 and became the first artist since Janet Jack...

News Co - avatar News Co

An Aussie Band Breaks Into The US Music Market

AN AUSTRALIAN BAND’S STEPS TAKEN TRYING TO BREAK INTO THE US MARKET By skinsNbones The steps skinsNbones have taken as a band trying to break into the music market haven’t been taken in the traditional Australian way. We didn’t have the opportun...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media


After a difficult year fraught with fear, anxiety and personal and sociopolitical struggles, nothing has the power to soothe our collective souls – or coincides as perfectly with our renewed sense of hope – than a heartfelt, blissfully beautiful love...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

Metropolitan Business News

Essential Tips for Developing Corporate Websites

The corporate industry, just like the others, is experiencing a massive technological revolution. Organizations have changed their marketing criteria by embracing the internet. Therefore, do not be ...

News Co - avatar News Co

How to Make a Personal Injury Claim for Minors

As a parent, you want to make sure your child is always safe. But as much as you want to keep him under your watch, it is impossible to be there for him all the time. When he is out there attendin...

News Co - avatar News Co

Dress for Success - Style Essentials for Every Businessmen

Did you ever glance at a person in passing and instantly think, “Wow, they must be successful”? It seems like the rich and successful people always stand out from the crowd without even trying, ...

Diana Smith - avatar Diana Smith

Why use Google Adwords?

Google ads, previously known as Google AdWords is one of the best and most effective ways to advertise your business online. According to data released by Google, over 5.5 billion searches are made ...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

Perfecting Web Design For A Health-Based Website

These days, when it comes to understanding what we put into our bodies, we are more focused than ever. It seems that everywhere we look, there is another health benefit, product, or trend on the...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

3 Realistic Reasons Why Physical Offices Are (Almost) Dead

Nowadays, more and more businesses are trying to find alternatives to traditional offices. For many years, brick and mortar offices have been at the heart of a company’s life. But work environme...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

Writers Wanted

News Co Media

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion