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Study finds racial disparities in access to in-person education

June 29, 2021

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As more schools transitioned to in-person learning this year, students of color were less likely to have full-time access to the classroom than White students.

Researchers said the disparities have wide-ranging impacts on students.

“Reduced access to in-person learning is associated with poorer learning outcomes and adverse mental health and behavioral effects in children,” authors wrote in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The team analyzed data on about 46% of school districts across the country from late 2020 through early 2021. While access to full-time, in-person learning increased for all racial/ethnic groups in 2021, rates were

  • 75% for White students,
  • 63% for Black students,
  • 59% for Hispanic students and
  • 57% for students of other races.

The largest disparities were seen in Ohio and Pennsylvania, while the lowest were in the District of Columbia, Delaware, Hawaii, Wyoming and Montana.

The South had higher rates of in-person learning than other regions, and Wyoming and Montana offered in-person learning to all students.

Authors said several factors may have contributed to the disparities in in-person learning. Districts in urban areas may have had higher COVID-19 rates in the community. Disparities leading to higher rates of COVID-19 hospitalization and death among people who are Black and Hispanic also may have impacted school districts’ decisions on reopening for in-person education.

“To increase equitable access to full-time in-person learning for the 2021–22 school year, school leaders should focus on providing safety-optimized in-person learning options across grade levels,” authors wrote.

They called for continued efforts to improve vaccination coverage and said school districts should implement CDC-recommended safety protocols.

The AAP also has been calling for schools to reopen with safety measures so students can access the programs they need to thrive.

“The AAP strongly recommends that school districts promote racial/ethnic and social justice by promoting the well-being of all children in any school COVID-19 plan,” the interim guidance states, “with a specific focus on ensuring equitable access to educational supports for children living in under-resourced communities.”

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