“Everywhere you turned,” Torres said, “there was someone else to give condolences to.”
So when the New York City schools system asked her if she would send Eva back to the classroom in the fall, Torres, who works remotely, did not have to think twice. She could not fathom sending Eva to school, with the grief of losing her mother still so fresh.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has pushed hard to reopen school buildings, to ease the burden on working parents. And yet the families of 46 percent of students in the nation’s largest school district, made up overwhelmingly of children of color who come from low-income households, have chosen to keep their children home. Even some families in precarious financial situations are forgoing work to care for their children, because they are so fearful of the virus.
De Blasio touted his plan to keep students and teachers safe as “the global gold standard,” ordering inspections of all school buildings, supplying staff with masks and designing a testing regimen intended to keep close tabs on case numbers in schools. But the mayor had to push back the start date twice because schools were not yet ready to receive students and teachers demanded more safety precautions, threatening to strike.
More than 450,000 students began remote learning last Monday, while about 90,000 preschoolers and special education students whose families chose in-person instruction arrived at school campuses. Beginning next week, the remaining students — more than a half-million of them — will begin to arrive at school buildings for classes, with many attending only two to three days a week to allow for social distancing.
According to the most recent district figures, families of students of color chose remote learning at far higher rates than White families. More than half the Asian students enrolled in remote learning. For Black and Hispanic students, the number is nearly 46 percent. For their White classmates, it is just 33 percent. When their classmates begin arriving at school next week, these students will remain out of the classroom and in front of computers.
But remote learning proved disastrous for many in the spring, as schools were forced to devise learning plans on the fly and struggled to connect students with devices and high-speed Internet. Experts fear it could be another factor exacerbating an achievement gap that separates Black and Latino students from their White classmates. Nearly all large urban school districts, which are disproportionately Black and Latino, have gone remote.
Across the country, this story is repeating itself. A national Washington Post-Schar School Survey conducted in late July found that Black and Hispanic parents were far more hesitant to return their children to classrooms. Among White parents, 57 percent said they thought it would be safe to send their children back to classrooms. Among Black and Hispanic parents, 21 and 27 percent respectively said they thought in-person instruction was safe.
Pedro Dones, a middle-school math teacher at M.S. 363 in the Bronx, said many of his students live with elderly relatives and have seen plenty of people around them fall ill. They worry that if they return to school in person they will bring the virus home.
“You have quite a few kids who are like … ‘I can’t have that on my head, if I came back and someone in my family got sick,’” said Dones.
Torres, an auditor who lives in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx and has organized a food pantry for needy school families, knows her daughter could be missing out if she does not return to her middle-school classroom. She said many working parents are sending their children back as an absolute last resort, only when they can find no one else to care for them. They sometimes confide in her that they feel like bad parents.
“They don’t feel confident that their child is going to be safe,” Torres said.
Tamara Rolle, 47, was among those who lined up outside Fort Schuyler Presbyterian Church, where Torres had organized food and grocery distribution. Rolle, a home health aide, is out on medical leave and decided to keep her daughter, 9-year-old Reina, home from her charter school, which is not subject to de Blasio’s reopening plans but has nonetheless opened its doors for in-person instruction. She is still unsure what she will do when her leave expires.
She worried about what would happen if Reina returned. What if Reina forgot about social distancing and hugged an infected classmate? What if she let her mask slip, as she sometimes does, and picked up the virus?
Many say that the diverging views about the safety of in-person schooling is another sign of the pandemic’s uneven impact on communities of color. The coronavirus has spread more easily and proved…
Read More: In New York City schools, students of color are far more likely than their White