Black families may be reluctant to send their children back to Los Angeles Unified schools, after more than a year of coronavirus-induced virtual learning, because they feel the nation’s second largest school district is plagued by systemic racism, according to a new report from an educational advocacy group.
Speak UP, a parent group that advocates for improved and equitable public education, released a report Monday, June 7, about how racial bias affects Black students at LAUSD.
The report took into account responses from focus groups, analyses of district data and surveys, and the results from its own survey of 500 LAUSD parents, including 96 Black parents. Nearly two-thirds of Black parents said they did not want to send their children back to school. And while lingering concerns about the coronavirus pandemic was at least partly responsible for their hesitancy, 43% said they had concerns about bullying, racism and academic achievement, the reports says.
LAUSD resumed in-person learning in April, but fewer than half of all students chose to return.
The report called the results an indictment against LAUSD and said the months of distance learning proved revelatory for Black parents. Officials with LAUSD and United Teachers Los Angeles, the local teachers union, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday morning.
“Black parents were able to see how their children were treated by their peers and instructors while kids learned at home, and in some cases, saw a system that did not benefit them,” the report says. “Many of the same parents who saw that their children seemed to learn better and thrive emotionally away from school now question whether it is in their child’s best interest to return to campus.”
Before the pandemic, 40% of Black parents said their children were bullied, the report says. But that dropped to 6% during distance learning. (Latino, White and Asian parents also reported a drop in bullying during distance learning, but the difference was not as stark.)
About a third of Black parents also reported that they felt their children were better supported by teachers during this period — despite myriad reports of learning losses and other challenges amid the pandemic. That was nearly three times the rate of those who said their children received worse instruction while at home.
“In an indictment of how Black families experienced in-person schooling prior to the pandemic,” the report says, “Black parents were more likely to say their kids’ educational experience improved during distance learning than other group.”
Katie Braude, chief executive of Speak UP, said the results of the organization’s survey and focus groups didn’t align with what national data has found.
“Black kids had some of the largest learning losses,” she said, “so you would expect Black parents would want to get their kids back in the classroom.”
Parent Tanisha Hall said she believes systemic racism is at play at schools her children have attended in South L.A., even though the teachers and administrators are Black. Hall said she believes the district tends to assign lesser-qualified educators to schools in low-income communities — one example, she said, of systemic racism.
“People who would not be hired to work in the valley or in the Westside are hired and given jobs in South L.A.,” Hall said, adding that a first grade teacher at a school where she also taught had trouble spelling. “They’re hiring educators who are subpar.”
The terms of the teachers contract, meanwhile, also limits how often teachers receive regular feedback, the Speak UP report says, as well as the likelihood of administrators being able to observe and respond to racist practices. The contracts allows permanent teachers to be evaluated every other year instead of every year and for teachers with more experience to be evaluated once every three to five years.
Recent interviews with parents aligned with what the Speak UP report found.
Hall, for example, said that when her daughter struggled with technology during distance learning, she overheard the teacher berating her. Other times, she said, staff at the secondary schools her children attended would bark orders at students, making them feel “disrespected.”
Another parent, Chantel Hunter Mah, described differences in the way her children have been treated in school. They’re biracial, but her son looks more Black while her daughter has more Pacific Islander features, Hunter Mah said.
Her son, who is now in college, would tell her how uneasy he felt in his high school Advanced Placement classes because he was treated differently, Hunter Mah said. She had to advocate for him to be assessed as a gifted student when he was in elementary, and she once had a teacher admit she was surprised how well her son was doing academically, Hunter Mah, from the Westside, said.
At other times, her son was expected to serve as a role model to other Black students, Hunter Mah said, adding that it was unfair to place that additional responsibility on him.
“The expectation is that you need to do more because you are Black and smart,” she said.
Hall’s and Hunter Mah’s descriptions of their children’s experiences were similar to what other Black parents said during a series of focus groups.
The parents in the focus group, the Speak UP report says, described a school system that’s “indifferent and even hostile to them” and one that left them feeling as though their kids would be “better off not going back to a campus where they do not feel welcome.”
Demographics has also played a role, the report says.
Black families feel increasingly marginalized as the number of Latinos grow, according to the report. Black families comprise neither the majority of families in the district nor the wealthiest, so they often feel their voices go unheard, the report says.
Black also parents felt they had to advocate harder for their children, and mothers often felt they were automatically perceived as “angry Black women,” the report says
Latino students comprised 74% of the entire LAUSD population during the 2019-20 school year, according to state data. White students were about 10% of the population, with Black students at 8% and Asian American students at 4%.
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Speak Up’s report also analyzed the district’s annual School Experience Survey and found that during the 2019-20 iteration, Black students more often reported being bullied and believed this was due to the way they looked and spoke. Black students also felt less connected to their schools and felt less respected by adults on campus, the analysis found.
“Rooting out racism in L.A. Unified will require recognizing the connection between school culture and student performance,” the report says, “and winning back the trust of Black families who have felt abandoned for decades.”
The Speak UP report does not include recommendations for LAUSD, but the group is planning to host a Facebook Live event on Thursday, June 10, with a panel of experts to discuss actions the district could take to address issues highlighted in the report.