Equity Issues

Mostly White School Districts More Likely to Have In Person Classes

A joint study by Chalkbeat and Associated Press has found that school districts with a majority of students who are white were three times more likely to offer in-person learning as schools that primarily enrolled students of color.

To do the study, AP and Chalkbeat surveyed the largest districts in each of four categories: urban, suburban, town and rural. Responses came from 677 districts representing 13 million students. Most have begun school online. Yet, an analysis of the data found that "race is a strong predictor" of which schools would offer in-person instruction and which ones wouldn't.

In urban schools, at least a quarter of districts that were 75 to 100 percent white intended to start classes in person; for districts with fewer than 25 percent of white students, the share was less than 5 percent. For suburban districts, the proportion was 31 percent versus 16 percent. For town districts, the proportion was 48 percent versus 25 percent. And for rural districts, it was 44 percent versus 17 percent.

As the reporting noted, "The higher a district's share of white students, the more likely it is to offer in-person instruction." This holds true even for districts that have begun the school year with the same health guidance in place. For example, in Forrest County, MS, two school systems separated by a river "are going in opposite directions." Whereas Hattiesburg Public School District, which has a student population that's 90 percent black, is starting online, Petal School District, which is 73 percent white, is returning to class in person.

The fallout could be major, the reporting pointed out. Students learning online face a bigger risk of falling behind peers learning in person. And many will lose "reliable access to free or subsidized meals, special education services and other in-person support."

Why the variations? One reason could be politics, the report suggested. Schools in areas where support for Donald Trump was higher were more likely to open in person. Also, school officials were responding to family demands. Polling has shown that parents in black and Latino populations, which are at greater risk of dying from COVID-19, were "more likely to be wary" of having their students return to school in person than white parents." Also, some of the decisions were made for financial reasons. Districts with more money could spend some of the funding on improving ventilation, putting cleaning routines in place and covering the cost of extensive coronavirus testing.

The full story is openly online on the Chalkbeat website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.