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Re-opening schools in Arizona: The racial divide

School, students, education
Posted at 8:22 PM, Mar 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 00:26:58-05

PHOENIX  — While nearly everyone agrees, re-opening schools is the best thing for kids, minority groups and recent polling suggest, there are far greater concerns among parents of color. It's what some education leaders call a "racial divide" in the return to the classroom.

In February, an Axios/Ipsos Poll found 55 percent of Black parents, and 40 percent of Latino parents, were "very," or "extremely concerned" about potential health risks, compared to 25 percent of white parents.

Advocates say there are a number of reasons why.

"These families have also disproportionately experienced the trauma of the pandemic. They have been infected at higher rates. They have lost family members at higher rates," said Stephanie Parra, executive director of All In Education, a Latino education group. "We have to ask ourselves what is their family circumstance? And it will look different."

There are other important factors. Skepticism and mistrust of vaccines run rampant in minority communities, advocates say, leading to lower vaccination rates. Many in these communities also live in homes with extended family.

"If you’re living in a multi-generational home, and you have to worry about caring for grandma, grandpa, mom and dad are out working, going to school is the last thing you need to worry about simply because you want to make sure the family is taken care of first." said Jevin Hodge, chair of the Booker T. Washington Child Development Center, a pre-k school serving primarily black and brown students.

Access to healthcare is another reason families are worried. Low income zip codes are often tied to the lowest rates of vaccination, and some officials want to see more schools utilized as vaccination centers.

"You tend to trust in your neighborhood schools more than going out to the cardinal stadium or somewhere different," a member of the Tempe Union High School Governing Board.

Maricopa County Public Health officials said Monday, they are working on outreach programs to try to improve vaccination rates in low-income neighborhoods, partnering with church leaders to encourage more people to sign up.

Advocates say, it's a good start, but for a population already reeling from a year of remote learning, and the devastation of the pandemic, there is more work to do.