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Survey: Race a predictor of in-person instruction

Fifth grade teacher Edith Bonazza guides her students to their classroom at Oak Terrace Elementary School in Highwood, Ill. The Associated Press

Missi Magness wanted her children back in school.

The parent of a first grader and a sixth grader who attend schools on Indianapolis’ southeast side struggled trying to oversee her children’s schooling while working from home this spring.

“They need the structure, they need the socialization, they just need to go,” said Magness. “‘I love you, but here’s your backpack, here’s your lunch … have a good day!'”

Many other local parents agreed. Now, their school district, Franklin Township — where two-thirds of the 10,000 students are white, as is Magness — has allowed younger children to return to school buildings full time.

But two districts over, it’s a different story. In Indianapolis Public Schools, where nearly three-quarters of about 26,000 students in traditional public schools are Black and Hispanic, the school year started virtually — despite relying on the same local health guidance as Franklin Township.

That dynamic is playing out across the country: Districts where the vast majority of students are white are more than three times as likely as school districts that enroll mostly students of color to be open for some in-person learning, according to an analysis conducted by The Associated Press and Chalkbeat.

While that stark divide often reflects the preferences of parents, it’s one that could further exacerbate inequities in education.

Survey responses from 677 school districts covering 13 million students found that most students will begin the school year online. That’s the case for the vast majority of the nation’s biggest districts, with the notable exception of New York City. But the survey shows that race is a strong predictor of which public schools are offering in-person instruction and which aren’t.

The higher a district’s share of white students, the more likely it is to offer in-person instruction — a pattern that generally holds across cities, towns, suburbs and rural areas.

Across the surveyed districts, 79% of Hispanic students, 75% of Black students, and 51% of white students won’t have the option of in-person learning.

For some students, continued distance learning raises risks they will fall behind peers who are learning in person. Many districts say virtual instruction will be much improved from the spring, when projections show some students lost the equivalent of several months of learning. But teachers acknowledge that the experience still can’t replicate in-person school, especially for young students.

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