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As a Black parent myself, these results are deeply troubling. Not because parents are doing anything wrong by choosing what they believe to be the safest option for their families, but because as a society, we have let families down by not creating the conditions for Black parents to feel comfortable sending their children back into school buildings.
That’s Shennell McCloud, Executive Director of Project Ready, commenting on a poll commissioned by her non-profit that examined differences among 960 white, Black, and Hispanic voters on how likely they are to accept vaccines, if they would feel safe sending their children to school, and whether they trust the Murphy Administration’s roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations.
Throughout the poll results one sees a racial divide: More white voters than Black voters (and, to a lesser extent, Hispanic voters) trust the vaccine, have been vaccinated themselves, would send their kids into classrooms, and think the state is moving too slowly reopening schools. For example, 46% of white parents would send their kids back to school if they had the option but only 14% of Black parents would. (Complete results here.) From Project Ready:
The survey found that while the virus has impacted nearly everyone, communities of color have experienced a disproportionate impact when it comes to their children’s education and the impact on personal finances. The survey finds that there is a significant divide along racial lines when it comes to how children are learning during the pandemic and how parents would prefer to proceed when it comes to reopening schools.
(And, for all the hoopla about New Jersey closing the digital divide, 36% of Black parents say they still lack adequate digital access.)
These results echo a national Pew poll which found, of 10,000 people polled, 48% of white parents want schools reopened regardless of whether teachers are vaccinated but just 19% of Black parents do.
In New Jersey, where only 5% of our 1.4 million K-12 students are in classrooms full-time, this racial divide is writ large: parents’ comfort level with in-school instruction and vaccinations is far lower for Black families than white families. This tracks with actual access to classroom instruction: in Newark, Trenton, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, Camden, Atlantic City — where students are mostly Black and Hispanic —schools are all-remote. In Millburn, Saddle River, Princeton, Mendham, West Windsor, where students are mostly white and Asian, schools are either hybrid or fully open.
And right now, according to Project Ready, 78% of New Jersey Black parents said their children are in virtual school, compared to 41% of Hispanic families and 13% of white parents.
In Montclair, the story arc (here and elsewhere) is that pro-opening parents are battling anti-opening teacher union leaders. But here’s a different and equally valid angle: more white parents than Black parents trust the system. Montclair Councilman David Cummings, whose ward includes the largest share of Black Montclair residents (and who is Black himself), says he understands why Black parents want their kids home: “You have to consider the history of America when it comes to science and testing in the Black community, specifically regarding pandemics like COVID. There is little trust. The Tuskegee experiment on Black people is something we will never forget.”
And, again swooping out nationally, Lakisha Young, founder of a parent advocacy organization called The Oakland REACH, said, “our Black children have long been failed by in-person learning, so we don’t want a return to the status quo.”
“This poll in particular was pretty heartbreaking for me,” McCloud said. “I think something unique is happening in Black communities. Policymakers and activists need to pay attention to it, and they need to address it.”