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All around Lourdes Flores, there are signs that her border town of Mission is coming back to pre-pandemic life: more restrictions have been lifted, she no longer works strictly from home, and most of her family have been vaccinated.
However, there is a sign that Flores is slow to come to terms: her daughter, Jazmin, will return to in-person learning for her sophomore year this fall in the independent school district of La Joya.
“If a choice is given, then I will keep her at home for as long as possible until I know it is really safe to be there,” Flores said, adding that she was concerned that the current COVID-19 infection rates are not. paint an accurate picture of the spread of the virus, as her daughter’s district plans to move forward with a full return to campus.
Distance learning will soon no longer be an option for many parents in the fall, as the Texas Education Agency pushes districts to return to in-person learning, citing data showing it leads to better educational outcomes. learning versus distance education. The agency announced that state funding for distance-only options would not be available for the next school year, prompting many districts to announce a return to 100% in-person education.
Despite this, the return to in-person learning is not a straightforward transition for some parents – especially parents of students of color – after a year in which they say their children have reaped some benefits from it. ‘distance learning only.
When districts have given parents the choice between in-person and distance education over the past year, according to data from the Texas Education Agency, students of color in Texas have reverted to in-person learning at lower rates than their white counterparts.
In January, about 56% of Texas students on average returned to teaching on campus during the school year, including 75% of white students, about 53% of black students, 49% of Hispanic students and 31 % of Asian students.
In an emailed statement, the TEA cited the ‘disproportionate effect of Covid-19 on the economy and public health on communities of color’ as the reason for the drop in attendance and in-person engagement rates among students of color.
Experts say it is necessary to consider the intersection of circumstances that could lead to such rates: students may live in a multigenerational household and worry about infecting family members, or they could be tasked with additional responsibilities during the pandemic – such as caring for siblings or supplementing family income – that make distance learning more conducive to their needs.
“Above all, there is a lot of fear and economic uncertainty. All of these things play a role “in the drive to pursue distance learning,” said Hector Bojorquez, director of operations and educational practices at the Intercultural Development Research Association, a nonprofit that seeks to secure the equal opportunities for children in public education. “Everyone’s life [were] plunged into chaos over the past year. People whose lives are already economically precarious are even more afraid of taking certain risks. “
The disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on communities of color may also present a challenge for parents who decide to let their child return to learning in person, said Leann Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the education from Texas A&M University.
“We know there were higher rates of COVID-related illness and death in these communities, so we put the onus on parents to decide whether or not they want to risk further exposing their own community or family. to this virus, ”Smith said.
Throughout the pandemic, the majority of coronavirus-related deaths in the state have been among Hispanic and black Texans, who together make up just over 50% of the state’s population. By the end of June, about 26% of black Texans and about 32% of Hispanic Texans had been fully vaccinated, compared to about 38% of White Texans, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
For Stacey Smith, whose daughter is pregnant and contracted COVID-19 last year while attending school in person and playing sports, an option for her child to learn remotely would make her more comfortable .
“I think there should be options for parents who have high risk kids instead of just saying ‘This is what it is,’” said Smith, who is Hispanic and lives in Austin. In June, Austin ISD announced that it would no longer provide a virtual learning option for students.
Meeting social needs
For some parents, the desire to keep their children at home during the school year stems from some of the social challenges students may face in a school setting that may be unique to their race or identity.
Tonya Reyes-Dickerson, who lives in Springtown outside Fort Worth, said that before the pandemic, going to class in person was a challenge for her 10-year-old transgender son, who in the past has been the target of bullying at school. Springtown ISD announced its return to in-person learning this fall.
“Be in the virtual [school], we don’t have to worry about it, ”Reyes-Dickerson said. “Our child is protected from all of these types of dangers. “
In a school year that began just after George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, and a summer of protests against racial injustice and police brutality, Smith said because they were at home, many children of color have also been able to have more in-depth conversations with their families who recognize their cultural perspective. This doesn’t happen often at school, she says.
“The socialization that we hope would happen in school but that research shows doesn’t happen in school – parents were able to create that space at home, which is good,” Smith said. “So there are mental health benefits of [students] to be protected from what we know to be very negative, discriminatory and microaggressive experiences.
Lashonda Chavers said virtual learning has given her two daughters a much-needed respite from some difficult interactions in the public school system. For example, her youngest daughter told her that during a dissection of a sheep’s heart in science class, her teacher said that it was the black legacy of eating chitlins and the legacy of Hispanics. to eat menudo – two dishes made from animal organs.
“I think we did better, my kids, my daughters, did better” learning at home, said Chavers, 46, who is black and Hispanic and whose daughters, an aspiring freshman and one in rising final, attending school at Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD outside of Dallas. “Their grades were just as good, and they were well adjusted, and they were happy, and they felt liberated. “
His daughters’ school district has already announced that it will return to in-person learning without any online options for the next school year. Chavers said she and her daughters are not vaccinated against COVID-19 due to her “distrust of Western medicine.” And she’s nervous that they’re going back to class in the fall.
“I think all schools should have hybrid classes for each child until it’s done, or until we have such a good grasp of the situation that we haven’t even heard of any cases. COVID, ”said Chavers.
Return to in-person learning
The learning loss during the pandemic has exceeded the usual decline associated with the summer months, according to the TEA. Between March 2020 and September 2020, students lost an average of nearly six months of learning, according to the TEA, with virtual learning students being “disproportionately affected.”
Recently released standardized test results also show that the percentage of distance learning students who met grade-level expectations has dropped significantly over the past year, especially in math and reading.
For example, districts in which a quarter or more of students were learning virtually experienced a 32% drop in math performance from 2019 to 2021. However, in districts where less than a quarter were learning virtually, performance did not only decreased by 9%.
“Fortunately, early on, Texas made the availability of in-person education a priority during this extremely difficult year,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in a statement. “When students enter Texas public schools, they are well served by Texas educators – a fact these scores confirm. “
In the plan that TEA submitted to the US Department of Education which details how it intends to use federal stimulus funds from the US bailout, the agency said that “African American and Hispanic students in Texas have experienced, in general, no more wasted teaching time. due to absenteeism, lower student engagement and more engaged in distance learning than their peers of other races / ethnicities. “
The TEA said it was “actively working to combat pandemic-induced learning loss” and overseeing the distribution of $ 18 billion in federal stimulus funds to public schools. In April, the state released $ 11.2 billion in federal stimulus funding for public schools allocated to it as part of the US bailout.
The recently released money requires districts to set aside 20% of their funds to address learning loss through strategies such as summer programs, after-school programs or school year extensions.
Lubbock ISD superintendent Kathy Rollo said measures like these have helped students get back on track in her district, especially through summer school programs for children to re-acclimatize. in-person learning.
Some districts, such as Lubbock ISD, San Antonio ISD, and Austin ISD, said they chose to return to full in-person education for the next school year because the Texas Legislature did not pass a bill that would have helped fund virtual school programs. .
House Bill 1468 died following the walkout by House Democrats to stop passage of a GOP priority vote bill. In a joint letter sent to Governor Greg Abbott on June 16, 30 school districts, including San Antonio ISD and Austin ISD, requested that funding for virtual schools be added to the agenda for the special session of the Legislature. , which begins this month.
Rollo said that even if the bill had passed, Lubbock ISD would not have offered kindergarten through eighth virtual education.
“We were interested in exploring the potential of having an online virtual school for our high school students who are older, are able to navigate more themselves through their learning opportunities, but when this bill doesn’t has not passed, it’s really not an option for our district at this point, ”she said.