Now that kids are heading back to in-person schooling, it’s worth noting that some students — especially Black students — do not feel safe. Not only do they not feel safe because of COVID, but they don’t feel safe because of the racism and bullying these students experience while at school.
According to surveys conducted by the Institute of Education Sciences, in May (the latest month with results), when given the choice for in-person instruction, white fourth-grade students were far more likely to go back to in-person instruction at 65%. In comparison, Black fourth graders were at 45%, Hispanic students at 50% and Asian American students at 38%.
This trend is attributed to several factors, including concerns about COVID disproportionately affecting communities of color, distrust that schools are equipped to keep children safe, as well as the fact that schools in urban districts with large student of color populations were slower to re-open for in-person instruction.
Black students face racism and implicit bias at school
Of course, the bias against Black students — and their parents — is not new information. Whether it’s from teachers, principals, or fellow students, the negative bias against Black children has been studied and well-documented. Thus, many Black parents found a bonus benefit to online schooling: they could protect their children from racism.
Of the 96 Black parents in a recent survey of 500 Los Angeles Unified parents, Speak Up — the organization examining the data — reported that 82% of Black parents cited COVID as a reason not to return to in-person schooling, and 43% cited bullying, racism, and low academic standards.
According to the Speak Up report, “Black parents were able to see how their children were treated by their peers and instructors while kids learned at home, and in some cases, saw a system that did not benefit them.” In addition, many of these same parents discovered their children “…seemed to learn better and thrive emotionally away from school now question whether it is in their child’s best interest to return to campus.”
Even prior to the pandemic, a great number of Black parents chose to homeschool their children — and since the lockdown, that number has soared. Khadijah Ali-Coleman, the co-director of Black Family Homeschool Educators and Scholars, told the Chicago Tribune, “Racism in schools plays a huge, huge role in a family’s choice to do homeschooling,” she said. “That racism can manifest in a lot of different ways, from a teacher who criminalizes every behavior to not recognizing how curriculums exclude the experiences of Black people to not presenting Black children with the same opportunities such as accelerated classes as white children.”
Black parents see benefits to remote schooling
Ali-Coleman, who chose to homeschool her daughter in part because of the racism present in schools, acknowledges that homeschooling is inherently not the same as remote schooling. However, she understands how Black parents can feel as if they have more control in confronting the racism their children may encounter at school.
“I think this has been eye-opening to a lot of parents. They’re finally getting to see what goes on in classrooms for Black and brown students,” said Ali-Coleman, “and I think many are dismayed.”
Because parents are at home and can peek into the classrooms and witness their peer and teacher interactions, they often can see racism first hand — instead of relying on their children to tell them. As a result, Black parents can also intervene a lot sooner.
Many Black students thriving during remote learning
For some Black families, their children have flourished while staying at home. In the Speak Up report, 27% of Black LAUSD parents noted their kids’ behavior improved while at home, compared to 8% who said it worsened. Furthermore, 34% of Black parents stated their children received better teacher support during e-learning versus 12% who said the quality of instruction decreased.
Many Black parents in general felt as if they could direct their children’s education more so than before and supplement what schools overlooked such as emphasizing Black history (which is American history — not some separate, discrete field of study), Black voices, and Black culture. Some parents added supplemental courses for their kids — so that their children could participate in activities that emphasized Black culture and art.
Some Black students have prospered during the lockdown simply because they were removed from a toxic environment. Valerie Adams-Bass, developmental psychologist at the University of Virginia, explained to NPR that in the media, Black students are often depicted as uninterested in education — and Black boys are characterized negatively such as being scary or formidable. “If that’s what the teachers and administrators or their peers see,” said Adams-Bass, “then oftentimes that is what they’re responding to when they’re engaging with Black students in reality.”
Thus, it’s unsurprising to find that many Black students are doing better at home versus at school. “There is emotional energy and a cognitive energy that goes along with navigating the spaces where you don’t feel welcome or comfortable,” Adams-Bass further explained. “You’re always on alert, you’re always on, you’re always deflecting, so you would be exhausted at the end of the day on top of growing,” she said.
Schools need to do better
As great as it is to hear that some Black students are thriving in school even in a pandemic, it’s not actually a good thing, right? Because the reason behind their improvement is that school has been a toxic cesspool of racism and anti-Blackness. And now that schools are opening up to in-person instruction, our Black children are being put back into that awful, spirit-killing environment.
The onus is on schools to ensure that their campuses are welcoming environments for all students — and maybe especially Black students. Of course, training teachers about their implicit biases is great and all — but you know what would be better? Having more teachers of color — especially Black teachers — and a more diverse curriculum to accurately reflect American history and culture.
And not only that, schools should pay teachers competitive wages. Why should people — especially BIPOC — have to receive (on average) 20% less pay to do what is ostensibly one of the most vital positions in our society?
Let us demand better from our schools — and though no one particularly enjoys taxes, let us put our money where our mouths are. If we say teachers are important, we should pay them accordingly. Black children deserve to be educated in an environment where they can thrive and not feel as if they’re constantly being demeaned. It shouldn’t take a fucking pandemic to realize.