Sometime over the summer, Jonathan White and his wife had to make a choice that parents across the country were making about the upcoming school year: send their kids back to school in person part-time, or keep them entirely remote. They chose remote.
“We’re a Black family, and we know that Blacks over-index, as far as COVID infections,” said White, who lives in Somerset, New Jersey. “So we just thought it best and safest to keep them home.”
Their son, who’s in 8th grade, has asthma, and they didn’t trust the Somerset schools were prepared to prevent the spread of COVID-19. On top of that, White said, “we don’t trust that our neighbors, sadly particularly our white neighbors, are going to take the precautions necessary to make sure that our kids are safe.”
More than 70% of Black students are learning entirely remotely right now, compared to about 40% of white students and about 60% Hispanic or Latinx students, the most recent Marketplace Edison Research poll found. Some of that has to do with trust, according to Jasmine Gripper, the executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education.
“We have seen a lot of Black and brown parents in New York opt for 100% online, remote learning. I think that speaks to the Black community, specifically, having a lot of distrust for institutions within our communities,” she said.
“When communities have been systemically dis-invested in and neglected, at a time where there’s a global crisis and a pandemic, it’s really hard for parents to say I’m going to trust this institution now to keep my child safe.”
If white parents are more likely to feel safe sending their kids to school in person, Gripper is concerned that will only widen the achievement gap.
“We know that in-person learning is the best quality learning that a child can get, that face-to-face interaction with their teachers is significantly better and more effective than the online learning models,” she said.
“If the students who are getting in-person models are the students who already have the advantage, they’re only going to increase their advantage,” she said. “And the students who are doing online and remote learning, if those are the most disadvantaged students, they’re only going to end up being further behind their peers.”
That was a big reason Erika Friederichs and her husband opted to send their kids back to school in person full-time this fall.
“My kids just did not do well learning from home,” said Friederichs, who’s white and lives in Billings, Montana.
In the few months they were learning remotely last spring, she saw them backsliding — her 6-year-old daughter socially, and her 9-year-old son academically.
“Even though they’re very motivated about learning, I felt like they’d just slipped further if we had to do it all from home,” she said.
So this fall, she and her husband really wanted them back in the school building, if possible.
“The school made us feel like they were doing everything they could to make sure that everyone was staying safe and healthy, and so far, it seems like they’re sticking to that,” Friederichs said. “Right now I feel like the school is the safest place for them to be because they’re being so cautious.”
Parents whose kids are back in the classroom are more likely to be satisfied with the education their kids are receiving, according to a recent study from Pew Research. Most parents whose kids are learning remotely either some or all of the time are worried about their kids falling behind academically. Low-income parents in particular.
It feels inevitable to Jonathan White that his kids “will be slightly affected and possibly behind by the time they get back into the building,” he said. “I think it’s much more difficult for kids to learn remotely, and to get the type of education they can get in a classroom. Much more difficult.”
But he is less worried about that than he is about COVID. And he said he and his wife are taking it upon themselves to be more involved, and make sure their kids don’t fall too far behind.