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Parent Racial, Income Divides Seen on School Reopening Preferences

Parents of color and low-income parents are most concerned about how remote learning will affect their children's schooling, but they are also those most likely to consider it necessary for the next school year, according to a nationally representative study.

The findings come from a series of new analyses of data from the ongoing Understanding America Study of more than 6,000 families, by researchers from the University of Southern California Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research. Over multiple surveys this spring and summer, the study was expanded to include questions to families—including more than 1,400 with at least one child in grades pre-K-12 during the 2019-20 school year—on how the pandemic was affecting their children's schooling.

Nearly three-quarters of the parents in the survey wanted schools to provide options for them to use in-person or remote learning for their children, and more than 60 percent favored opening schools with multiple sessions a day to reduce crowding.

But the data also show that a majority of families who make less than $50,000 a year wanted schools to avoid in-person instruction entirely for the 2020-21 school year. By contrast, only 27 percent of families who make more than $150,000 a year wanted remote-only schooling. While counterintuitive for the families who often have the least job flexibility and the greatest need to get back to work quickly, the finding is in line with other recent surveys.

"These communities may have already been harder hit by the virus and they have seen more of what the actual impact is on people's health," said Morgan Polikoff, co-director of the study. "Another possibility is the federal government has supported people with fairly generous unemployment benefits that have just expired or are about to expire, and it could be that some people who are answering this question are assuming that support would continue."

However, in another analysis of the same surveys, the researchers also found that 67 percent of parents reported their children are playing with friends in person over this summer; it's not clear from the surveys whether families are requiring masks or social distancing during these playdates. While a majority of parents of all races reported their children met friends in person, more than 70 percent of white parents did so, significantly more than Black, Hispanic, or Asian parents.

In general, the pandemic hasn't changed summer play and sloth too much: More than 9 out of 10 families report their children get both physical activity and passive screen time daily. But this year, only 1 in 10 children is attending a live summer camp, and the same percentage are doing so virtually.

The survey also included 327 families with students enrolled in 11th or 12th grades. By mid-July, more than 1 in 10 of these families said that at least one of their children had changed plans for after high school graduation because of COVID-19. The researchers plan to release more data on postsecondary issues raised by the pandemic on August 6.