COVID-19 and Reopening Schools for Black Students

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated inequalities by worsening conditions for households in poverty.

Across Los Angeles County, there has been a notable rise in food insecurity and housing instability (Pastor & Segura, 2020). Additionally, despite the efforts of local school districts, large numbers of Black children (approximately 30%), like many Latinx children, have been unable to participate in virtual learning. Many lack stable access to the internet, reliable screen devices, and adequate learning conditions at home (Galperin et al., 2020). Inequities in learning opportunities were pervasive prior to the pandemic, and several reports documented that the state’s poorest, most vulnerable children were more likely to be denied high quality educational experiences (Dorn et al., 2020). In addition to learning loss, equally as important has been the social emotional challenges that many youth are experiencing such as isolation, anxiety and depression. Nationally, over 45% of essential workers are Black and Latinx (Karpman et al., 2020; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2010). The reality of caregivers being essential workers, and not having consistent connection to adults has also resulted in troubling trends of emotional well-being for larger numbers of Black youth (Fegert et al., 2020).

There are significant implications for reopening schools and designing learning recovery plans for our most vulnerable student populations, especially for Black families who have been negatively impacted by the virus. We cannot ignore how the physical, social, emotional and psychological state of communities of color, Black families in particular, have been profoundly impacted by structural racism, apparent in economic, housing, health and social patterns, especially in our education systems (Pastor & Segura, 2020).

As new data becomes available, it will be hardly surprising to discover that academic disparities have grown more pronounced as a result of these combined hardships. Prior to the pandemic, Black students ranked behind their peers in academic performance on standardized assessments and completing A-G courses (CDE, 2018, 2019). They were more likely than any other group to drop out of school, to be placed in special education, to be subjected to punitive discipline, or to be labeled with a disability. Additionally, disproportionate numbers of Black students throughout Los Angeles County experience homelessness and face challenges navigating the foster care system (Noguera et al., 2019, CDE, 2018, 2019, Romero, 2019).

The impact of the global pandemic on the education of Black students may potentially be devastating. As schools reopen, this is an important opportunity to reimagine schooling. Now is the time to create innovative learning communities, such as robust summer enrichment and learning academies, exploratory learning, flexible school calendars, hybrid learning models, student led teaching and learning arrangements. This report is being released at a time when the educational impact of the pandemic is falling heavily on an already vulnerable student population. We can and must act boldly and imaginatively.