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Special Report
Families & the Community

Do Parents Trust Schools? Where the Fault Lines Are During COVID-19

By Christina A. Samuels — September 16, 2020 5 min read
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Parents are torn about whether they trust that schools will safeguard their child’s health while they attend in-person classes during the coronavirus pandemic, as uncertainty continues to swirl about whether opening school buildings is the right move for districts.

Overall, half of parents responding to a survey conducted by the EdWeek Research Center said they had a somewhat-to-very high level of trust that schools will keep their children healthy. Thirty percent of parents said they had a low-to-nonexistent level of trust in their child’s school. And about 21 percent said that they were on the fence, with equally high and low levels of trust. The results do not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.

But parental feelings on whether they trust schools varied based on their race, ethnicity, education level, and political affiliation. That aligns with a separate analysis in July by the Brookings Institution, which found that districts were more likely to be open to in-person learning if they were in communities that voted for President Trump four years ago, regardless of the local share of coronavirus cases.

The EdWeek Research Center survey found that Black parents, at 39 percent, parents who said they plan to vote for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, at 37 percent, and Latino parents, at 33 percent, were more likely than overall respondents to say they had low, or no, trust that schools could keep their children safe.

Special Report: How We Go Back To School

District and school leaders are confronting difficult, high-stakes decisions as they plan for how to reopen schools amid a global pandemic. Through eight installments, Education Week journalists explore the big challenges education leaders must address, including running a socially distanced school, rethinking how to get students to and from school, and making up for learning losses. We present a broad spectrum of options endorsed by public health officials, explain strategies that some districts will adopt, and provide estimated costs.

Part 1: The Socially Distanced School Day
Part 2: Scheduling the School Year
Part 3: Tackling the Transportation Problem
Part 4: How to Make Remote Learning Work
Part 5: Teaching and Learning
Part 6: Overcoming Learning Loss
Part 7: Teaching Social-Emotional Skills
Part 8: Closing Equity Gaps
Full Report: How We Go Back to School

In contrast, parents who said they plan to vote for President Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential election and parents who are university graduates were more likely than other parents to report that they believe their children’s schools could safely handle in-person learning. Sixty-one percent of Trump voters reported high levels of trust, as did 56 percent of respondents with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Shenetria Jackson, a mother of three elementary-age students who attend the Pasadena District in suburban Houston, is keeping her three children enrolled in remote learning. The district is offering the choice of remote or virtual instruction. Jackson, who is Black, is undergoing treatment for cancer. She’s also lost an aunt to coronavirus and has worried as local infection rates have risen.

“You have all these elementary school kids—they don’t have patience for walking around with masks on for eight hours,” Jackson said.

Zoila Carolina Toma, of Signal Hill, Calif., lives in an area served by the Long Beach Unified school system. The district has already planned to go fully remote, which matches what Toma already wanted to do for her family.

“I cannot force teachers to go back to school,” said Toma, who is Hispanic. “I don’t know what challenges they’re facing; I don’t know if they have any underlying issues. If I want to keep my family safe, I need to make sure those teachers are safe.”

The survey of more than 2,000 K-12 parents was conducted in late August. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 2 percent.

Longstanding Disparities

The pandemic’s impact has been felt in every part of the country, but some communities are far more likely to have been affected directly—a possible explanation for the differing responses. Black, Latino, and American Indian people have been nearly three times more likely than white people to be infected with the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black people are twice as likely as white people to die from coronavirus-driven illness.

Another possible factor: The findings reflect pre-existing and longstanding problems that Black and brown parents have had with their school systems.

“It’s a function of being frustrated with how schooling was being done before,” said Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, the national director of activism for Brightbeam, a network of educational advocates. “They weren’t consulted as equitable partners in the education of their child.”

Previous surveys conducted by other groups have found that Black and Latino people are less likely to want to return to in-person schooling. But Black and Latino people are also more likely to face challenges in accessing remote learning. The combination creates a profound equity challenge for families as well as school leaders.

But while Black parents were more likely to report having little trust in their schools, more than 4 in 10 still did.

Angela Davis, an African-American parent whose daughter attends 5th grade in Miamisburg schools in Ohio, said she understands the reservations that other parents may have about returning to in-person classes.

But she has sent her daughter back to school and happily so. The district has been “overcommunicating” with parents—in a positive way—and has offered a choice between in-person and remote learning, she said.

“I get why some of the very large districts are more cautious. They have a lot more moving parts,” Davis said. “The smaller suburban districts have the ability to make more decisions like what we’re making. They have a small amount of kids in small buildings.” Miamisburg enrolls roughly 5,000 students.

In the EdWeek Research Center survey, 12 percent of parents who said they will vote for Biden planned to send their children to full-time, in-person classes in public schools for the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, compared to 18 percent of respondents as a whole. Nearly half of Biden voters, 48 percent, said they would be enrolled in full-time remote, public school classes, compared to 39 percent of overall respondents. Among likely Trump voters, roughly 27 percent reported their children would attend full-time, in-person public school, 9 percentage points more than overall respondents. The same group was far less likely than respondents as a whole to report their children were attending full-time remote public school—26 percent, or 13 percentage points less than the overall percentage.

Latino parents, Black parents and Asian parents were more likely than overall respondents to report their children would engage in full-time remote learning, at 42, 44, and 63 percent, respectively.

A majority of parents polled felt that schools had done an adequate job teaching them how to support their children academically and emotionally. Parents were more likely to say they had received sufficient assistance from their child’s school on using educational technology—66 percent—than for social-emotional support, at 54 percent.

Overall, education advocates say that parents are an important, and sometimes overlooked, partner in helping children overcome the upheaval of the pandemic crisis.

In the spring, Phoenix Union High School District in Arizona rolled out a plan to have staff members contact each of its 29,000 students every day, as part of supporting families through the transition to remote learning.

This is a mind shift away from viewing families “as problems that needed to be solved,” said Stephanie Parra, the president of the district’s governing board and the executive director of the state advocacy group ALL in Education.

“We view our community as an asset that must be engaged with, that must be invested in, that must be supported,” Parra said.

Titilayo Tinubu Ali, director of research and policy, Southern Education Foundation; Lydia Breiseth, director, Colorín Colorado; Luvelle Brown, superintendent, Ithaca, N.Y., schools; Betty Chang, director, Education Resource Strategies; Patricia Chavez, director of policy, Parent Institute for Quality Education; Jenna Chiasson, assistant superintendent, Louisiana Department of Education; Lora Daily, director of learning supports, Iowa City, Iowa, schools; Angela Davis, parent, Miamisburg, Ohio; Miriam Ehtesham-Cating, director of programs for English-learners, Burlington, Vt., schools; Emily Elliott, instructional liaison, Albemarle County, Va., schools; Laila Ferris, interim chief of languages and dual language, El Paso, Texas., schools; Yvette Goorevitch, chief of specialized learning and student services, Norwalk, Conn., schools; Kenya Haynes, program specialist, National Center for Homeless Education; Greta Hinderliter, homeless liaison, Natrona County School District, Casper, Wyo.; Shenetria Jackson, parent, Houston; Vanessa Jimenez, president, Phoenix Union Classified Employee Association; Lindsay Jones, chief executive officer, National Center for Learning Disabilities; Christy McCoy, president-elect, School Social Work Association; Karen Hawley Miles, chief executive officer and president, Education Resource Strategies; Ron Nielson, Superintendent, San Juan School District, Blanding, Utah; Kevin Nohelty, superintendent, Dolton West School District 148, Dolton, Ill.; Tia C. Madkins, assistant professor, University of Texas at Austin; Adrián A. Pedroza, national director of strategic partnerships, Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors; Kristina Robertson, English language supervisor, Roseville, Minn., schools; Keri Rodrigues, founding president, National Parents Union; Suzy Pepper Rollins, author and consultant; Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, national director of activism, Brightbeam; Shalinee Sharma, co-founder and chief executive officer, Zearn; Sean Smith, professor of special education, University of Kansas; Tonya Spicer, director of special education, Owsley County, Ky., schools; Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, strategic advisor, Californians Together; Victor Tam, principal, Edwin and Anita Lee Newcomer School, San Francisco Unified, Calif., schools; Zoila Carolina Toma, parent, Signal Hill., Calif.; Cameron Walker; parent, Dayton, Ohio; Kate Eberle Walker, chief executive officer, PresenceLearning; Alexis Patterson Williams, assistant professor, University of California, Davis; Kerry Wrenick, state coordinator for education of homeless children and youth, Colorado Department of Education.

Studies and Documents:
“Reimagining Remote Learning,” by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (2020); “We Choose To Reimagine Education: Centering On Love And Emotionally Responsive Teaching And Learning,” by Tia C. Madkins and Alexis Patterson Williams (2020); “Centering Children and Families at the Margins,” by Zakiya Sankara-Jabar (2020); “Reopening Resilient Schools,” by John Bailey (2020); “COVID Comeback Models,” By Education Resource Strategies (2020); “Distance Learning Equity Dashboard,” by Titilayo Tinubu Ali, Sujith Cherukumilli and Mirel Herrera (2020); “NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Position on School Reopening During COVID-19 Pandemic,” by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (2020); “For Students of Color, Remote Learning Environments Pose Multiple Challenges,” by Natalie Spievack and Megan Gallagher (2020); “COVID-19 Hospitalization and Death by Race/Ethnicity,” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020); “Family-School Engagement of Families Who Are Speakers of Other Languages,” by the U.S. Department of Education Office of English Language Acquisition, 2019; “How Educators Can Support English-Learner Students in Distance Learning,” by WestEd (2020); “Latino Parent Voices: What Our Families Need Now,” by Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors (2020); “Online Learning for Students with Disabilities: Considerations for LEA Policies, Practices, and Procedures,” Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities (2017); “Questions for Proactive and Equitable Educational Implementation During the COVID-19 Crisis,” by COVID-19 Education Coalition Centering Equity (2020); “Special Education and Distance Learning: Supporting Students Through the Pandemic,” by ExcelinEd (2020); “Supporting English-Learners in the COVID-19 Crisis,” by the Council of the Great City Schools (2020); “Supporting English Learners Through Technology: What Districts and Teachers Say About Digital Learning Resources for English-Learners,” by the U.S. Department of Education (2019); “Planning for Equity and Inclusion: A Guide to Reopening Schools,” by the National Center for Learning Disabilities (2020); “Roles and Responsibilities of Parents of Online School Students with Disabilities,” Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities (2017); “Understanding Teletherapy as an Option for K-12 Students with Disabilities,” by the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities, (2018).
Coverage of strategies for advancing the opportunities students most at need, including those from low-income families and communities supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, at Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.


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