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Some black parents say distance learning gives racism a break

CHICAGO (AP) – Before schools closed 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 hometown. At her daughters’ school, a student used racist slurs and told another child that he did not play with “brown people”. She says teachers are quick to punish or reprimand black children and that Ku Klux Klan flyers are in mailboxes.

“I knew from the pregnancy that this would be something we would have to deal with,” she said. “This is the kind of area we live in, so you can imagine you will always feel protective of your children.”

As schools reopen across the country, black students are less likely than white students to enroll in in-person learning – a trend attributed to factors such as concerns about the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on communities. of color, a lack of confidence in their schools. are equipped to keep children safe and the large numbers of students of color in urban neighborhoods who have been slower to reopen classrooms.

But many black parents find another benefit of distance learning: being better able to protect their children from racism in the classroom.

“Now that they’re home we feel more secure,” said Johnson, who has been babysitting her two young daughters at home despite having options for in-person learning.

White students were much more likely to return to class, with 52% of white fourth-graders receiving full-time in-person instruction in February, the latest month with results available from surveys conducted by the Biden administration . In contrast, less than a third of black and Hispanic fourth-graders were back in school full-time, with just 15% of students of Asian origin.

Even before the pandemic, concerns about hostile racist environments contributed to large numbers of black parents turning to homeschooling, said Khadijah Ali-Coleman, co-director of Black Family Homeschool Educators and Scholars. Since then, there has been an upsurge in homeschooling among black families.

“Racism in school plays a huge and huge role in a family’s choice to homeschool,” said Ali-Coleman. “This racism can manifest itself in many different ways, from a teacher who criminalizes every behavior, to not recognizing how programs exclude black experiences, to not providing black children with the same opportunities such as lessons. accelerated than white children. “

Ali-Coleman chose homeschooling for his own daughter in part because of racism in schools. And although distance learning is different from teaching at home, she said she understands how switching to distance learning would allow black parents to feel more empowered and able to monitor the racism their children are facing. faced.

Many distance learning parents have also asked her for advice after first seeing the racism their children face.

“I think it opened the eyes of a lot of parents,” she said. “They’re finally starting to see what’s going on in the classrooms for black and brown students, and I think many are appalled.”

Distance learning also puts parents in a better position to intervene when necessary.

“When they’re in school you have no idea what they’re going through unless you dig or they tell you,” said Erica Alcox, mother of a 15 year old high school student. years in Atlanta. “Distance learning allows you to take a look around the classroom. It gives us more power. “

Alcox, who has been teaching since 1998, said his son felt safer at home, where he could worry less about how schools were monitoring black children and about bullying. She said distance learning can also offer teachers the opportunity to learn from parents.

“As a teacher, I would appreciate this opportunity for parents to get more involved and be able to hold me more accountable if necessary,” she said.

Many parents also say they feel more empowered to have more control over what their children learn. While many schools ignore or largely ignore black history, culture, and voices, distance learning allows parents to better see what is missing.

Johnson does this through efforts such as socially distanced African dance lessons. Tanya Hayles, founder of Black Moms Connection, an online network of more than 16,000 black mothers with chapters in North America and Asia, said she makes sure to monitor lessons from Black History Month to fill gaps in coverage.

Hayles said she noticed discussions among members about how distance learning has made black mothers better protect their children from racism.

Mother of an 8-year-old son in Toronto, Hayles has seen the benefits of distance learning in her own life. Most of the time, she works at a table next to her son to keep an eye on him and the classroom, where the lack of diversity among the students and staff at her child’s well-to-do, predominantly white school. , is a concern.

“When your child enters the school system, you are no longer just a parent,” she says. “You’re a lawyer, a detective, a cheerleader, so many things. And in some ways, distance learning makes this job easier. “

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