CHICAGO – Before schools shuttered during the pandemic, Ayaana Johnson worried every time she dropped her daughters off at school.
Johnson, a Black woman, says racism is rampant in her predominantly white Georgia town. At her daughters’ school, a student once used racial slurs and told another child he doesn’t play with “brown people.” She says teachers are quick to punish or reprimand Black children and Ku Klux Klan flyers can be found in mailboxes.
“I knew from pregnancy on that this would be something we’d have to deal with,” said Johnson, who asked that the town not be identified because she was concerned about potential fallout. “This is the kind of area we live in, so you can imagine that you’re always going to feel protective of your children.”
As schools reopen across the country, Black students have been less likely than white students to enroll in in-person learning — a trend attributed to factors including concerns about the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on communities of color, a lack of trust that their schools are equipped to keep children safe, and the large numbers of students of color in urban districts that have been slower to reopen classrooms.
But many Black parents are finding another benefit to remote learning: being better able to shield their children from racism in classrooms.
“Now that they’re home, we feel safer,” said Johnson, who was keeping her two young daughters home despite options being made available for in-person learning.
White students have been far more likely to be back in the classroom, with 52% of white fourth-graders receiving full-time, in-person instruction in February, the latest month with results available from surveys by the Biden administration. By contrast, less than a third of Black and Hispanic fourth-graders were back at school full time, along with just 15% of Asian American students.
Even before the pandemic, concerns about racially hostile environments contributed to large numbers of Black parents turning to homeschooling, said Khadijah Ali-Coleman, co-director of Black Family Homeschool Educators and Scholars. There has since been a surge in homeschooling among Black families.