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Trump wants schools to reopen. What would persuade Latinos to send their kids?

They’re already on the front lines of the pandemic — and yet they worry about their children’s education.

An entrance to Public School 159 is seen locked in Queens on July 8. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
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Earlier this month, President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos launched a campaign to push states to return to in-person education this fall — including a Trump threat to withhold federal funds from schools if that doesn’t happen. According to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll, most parents with children in school think their schools need more federal support to do that safely. What do minority communities think — especially Latinos, who represent 27 percent of the nation’s public school population and saw the greatest increase in enrollment percentage from 2000 to 2017?

Latinos have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic, as have other racial and ethnic minorities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Latinos are hospitalized with covid-19 at a rate approximately four times that of non-Hispanic whites. This is an important indicator, as it suggests that Latinos who get covid-19 experience more serious symptoms than non-Hispanic whites.

Latinos face higher risks for covid-19, given long-standing structural inequalities in health-care coverage, crowded housing, and overrepresentation as essential workers in unsafe workplaces. All that complicates Latinos’ decisions about whether to send their children to school in person this fall.

On behalf of Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors, Latino Decisions recently conducted a survey to understand Latino families’ educational needs during the pandemic. We found that Latino parents and grandparents worry that their children are falling behind in school, given the challenges of remote learning. At the same time, a majority are reluctant to send their children back to school, fearing covid-19 infection.

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Here’s how we did the research

Latinos make up almost 30 percent of the nation’s public school students and have much higher concentrations in several states, including California, New York and Texas. The attitudes of Latino families are important to consider as school districts decide whether and how to return to the classroom.

To learn more, we surveyed parents and grandparents with children 18 or younger. The national poll consists of 1,195 Latino parents and grandparents from June 12 to 19, using a blended approach that included online surveys and live telephone interviews conducted via landlines and cellphones. The survey was available in English or Spanish and carries an overall 2.8 percent margin of error, with larger margins for subsamples. Upon completion, the data was weighted to match the U.S. Census American Community Survey for parents of Hispanic origin.

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Latinos have mixed feelings about sending children back to school in the fall

In the survey, 83 percent of primary caregivers said they are concerned that their children are spending too much time away from school or not learning enough online, thereby falling behind. However, Latino families are also aware of the significant health risks of in-person education.

Given those risks, 58 percent are not planning to send their children to a summer program or camp that they normally would, and 53 percent are considering not sending their children to school or child care this coming fall.

More than 47 percent of respondents said that they know someone personally who has tested positive for the coronavirus. When that’s so, they are less likely to say they are planning to send their children to a summer program or camp than are families that do not know anyone who has tested positive. Those who know someone who has tested positive are 10 percentage points more likely to say they are looking for home-based child care or home-schooling options.

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What would make families more willing to send kids back to school?

The survey asked questions about what school precautions would encourage them to send their children to school in the fall.

As you can see in the figure above, almost all respondents support having the classrooms extensively cleaned every day and requiring teachers and students to wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus. That’s a more aggressive stand on mask policies than many states now have in place.

Most also support a hybrid model that would combine in-person and online learning, and staggering school days for different classes of students to reduce class sizes. A large majority of Latino parents and grandparents support extending the school year to help kids catch up with their studies, as well as having longer school days to help kids make up some ground lost during home schooling.

A majority of Latino parents and grandparents would also support continuing online learning only in the fall, despite their concerns that their children have fallen behind. That suggests how concerned Latino families are about covid-19.

Latino families want schools back in operation in the fall — but only if schools take aggressive steps to ensure the safety of children and educators.

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Gabriel R. Sanchez is professor of political science at the University of New Mexico and Principal at Latino Decisions.

Edward D. Vargas (@edwarddvargas) is an assistant professor in the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University.

Adrián A. Pedroza is the National Director of Strategic Partnerships for Abriendo Puertas/ Opening Doors.