White parents more comfortable reopening schools than non-white parents, survey says

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    Black, Indigenous and other parents of color are less comfortable with the prospect of in-person school this fall than white parents, according to a new survey released by the Minnesota Department of Education.

    More than 130,000 parents responded to the unscientific survey, which asked about families’ experiences with distance learning and feelings about the fall. About 65% of white parents said they would feel comfortable sending their children back to school in September, compared to about 56% of Indigenous parents, 50% of Black and Latinx parents, and 39% of Asian parents.

    Black and Indigenous Americans are feeling the brunt of the pandemic, and Black and Indigenous Minnesotans were the most likely to cite the fragile health of family members or children as a reason they are uncomfortable with a return to school. Fewer than 45% of white parents not comfortable with in-person school said that was a concern, compared to 54% of Indigenous parents and 50% of Black parents.

    The survey results come as parents, students and educators eagerly await a decision from the state on what the fall 2020 school year will look like. Gov. Tim Walz has promised an announcement by the end of July, and until then school districts are expected to prepare for three scenarios: distance learning, in-person learning, or a combination of both.

    In the survey, non-white parents said they would not feel comfortable sending their kids back to school at double the rate of white parents. More than a quarter of Asian parents — the largest percentage of any racial or ethnic group — and 10% of white parents responded “no” to that question. The rest said they were unsure. 

    More than 80% of all parents said concerns about public health were a reason they wouldn’t feel comfortable with in-person school. That rate was roughly the same across racial and ethnic groups. 

    The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Black and Indigenous people and people of color across the United States. People of color are hospitalized with the virus at higher rates than white people and experience higher mortality rates. In Minnesota, Black residents make up 20% of all confirmed COVID-19 infections, despite comprising less than 7% of the population.

    The survey also asked parents about their overall distance learning experience — just over half said it was “bad” or “very bad” — plus positive aspects of the experience as well as challenges.

    More than two-thirds of parents said students had access to internet and technology, and half responded that teachers and schools communicated well. The biggest challenges parents cited were that children didn’t feel empowered (47%); mental health issues related to the pandemic (40%); and hard-to-understand lessons (38%).

    Rilyn Eischens
    Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.