Will Black and Asian Families Send Their Children Back to School Amid Reopenings?

As schools reopen, some students — especially those from Black and Asian families — dread going back. Franetta Sinsabaugh with her daughter. Unlike before, with in-person school, her “kids aren’t stressed out, they’re learning and they’re happy,” Sinsabaugh said of remote learning. Photo by Franetta Sinsabaugh

Franetta Sinsabaugh’s frustrations with her children’s schooling had been building for a long time. Too much of the school year revolved around preparing for Texas’s standardized tests. The student-to-teacher ratio at her twins’ East Austin elementary school was higher than what state law mandated, she said. There was no money for art or science experiments or other hands-on activities — what Sinsabaugh calls “the fun parts of school” that get children engaged. Teachers told her they lacked basic supplies, like pencils and notebooks.

Then there were the racial injustices. Sinsabaugh, who is Black, felt that Black and Hispanic children were usually deemed the aggressors in bullying incidents. The family switched schools, and at their new school, she felt the educators pushed children, particularly those who are Black, into sports, when she would have liked to see them encouraged in math and science.

When COVID hit, schooling went remote. It was a rough transition. Sinsabaugh remembers a lot of arguing and crying — with her twins, who didn’t want to log on to school, and with educators whom she said talked down to her and called her “an irresponsible parent.” Sinsabaugh had already been thinking about homeschooling — she had experience leading educational activities through her job with a nonprofit youth organization.

Now that her work had gone remote, she decided that the pandemic presented a low-risk opportunity to try out homeschooling. She has been thrilled with the results. Both kids, now 12-years-old, had been several years behind in math, she said, and are now up to grade level. Her daughter, who has dyslexia, has become more confident with reading. Sinsabaugh plans to continue homeschooling this fall and has been encouraging fellow parents to do the same.

Sinsabaugh is not alone. While many families are eager for a return to in-person learning this fall, others are not: Surveys show that some families are reluctant to return — and, that Black and Asian families are the most likely to feel this way. In early April, for example, only about 25 percent of Black parents expressed a preference for in-person learning over fully remote learning or a hybrid of the two, compared with 60 percent of white parents, per the University of Southern California’s Understanding Coronavirus in America tracking survey.

Meanwhile, Asian families in New York City opted for in-person learning this spring at the lowest rate of any demographic, a pattern that holds true elsewhere in the country. The share of Hispanic students opting out of remote learning has also been consistently higher than for non-Hispanic white students. COVID-related health concerns are one reason: People of color have been disproportionately impacted by the virus.

But time away from the education system has also given families the distance to reflect on the injustices their children face at school — and wonder if they’re better off at home. As school districts across the country reopen this fall, with some choosing to eliminate the remote learning option, these families are facing a dilemma over what to do. Schools, for their part, are rolling out programs they hope will ameliorate the past year-plus of learning loss and reacclimate students to the school environment, while also trying to find ways to win back the confidence of families and address the many challenges that fall will bring.

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SOURCE: PBS; The Hechinger Report, Eveline Chao

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