New York City, with the largest school district in the country at 1.1 million students, is facing a racial disparity in the number of students returning to in-person learning, The New York Times reports. As the schools begin to reopen after a short shutdown due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus, about 12,000 more white children are returning to schools than Blacks, despite there being more Black students than whites in the system overall.
The gap is cause for concern because of the challenges presented by remote learning, in which students have had to engage throughout the pandemic. Problems with remote learning range from the environmental changes from a classroom to homes, to lack of access to technology such as computers or wi-fi connections, particularly for those living in homeless shelters.
“It’s the perfect storm of marginalization,” Jamila Newman, Project Director at TNTP, a nonprofit supporting students and educators, told the Times. “That’s why there is the need to demand stronger instruction remotely.”
Teachers and administrators have also had trouble creating engaging lessons for students, but say they haven’t gotten much assistance from city officials. So despite their efforts, there doesn’t seem to be a comprehensive plan to help online learning for the students enrolled in New York’s 1,800 schools.
“I feel like the city treats remote like an afterthought,” said Erika Kendall, a Black parent who lives in Brooklyn and has children learning from home, told the Times.
Despite that, a large number of Black parents reportedly feel that the school system cannot keep them safe from the spread of COVID-19. City data shows increases in cases and in the last seven days, officials have recorded more than 21,000 diagnosed cases, 1,000 hospitalizations and 109 confirmed deaths. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black families all over the country.
But keeping students home in order to keep them safe is causing some to worry about widening educational gaps between Black and white students. About 700,000 students are learning from home and about 110,000 students in middle and high schools have registered for in-person learning, but can’t yet go back to their schools.
Black and Asian American students at 18 and 12 percent, respectively, show the lowest representation among returning students, according to the Times. Latino students are actually the largest number at 43 percent. But white students make up 25 percent, despite making up only 16 percent of the total student body.
“Clearly, there are Black families who are hesitant, which only makes sense after the disparities they experienced during the heights of the pandemic,” said Bill Neidhardt, press secretary for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said in a statement. “And that’s exactly why our vaccine response will focus on equity and engaging the hardest-hit communities, so we can get our schools fully back once and for all.”