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Many students across the country returned to in-person instruction over the past month, but for families of color, the pandemic has shaken their trust in schools’ ability to care for children’s well-being and safety—and that has led to a surge in the number of BIPOC families opting for homeschooling.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, prior to the onset of the pandemic, 3.3% of Black families homeschooled their children. Since the 2019-2020 school year when the data was gathered, that number has increased to 16.1%. While the rate of homeschooling is higher for all racial groups, Black families reported the greatest percent difference from pre-pandemic to current day. Latinx families reported the second greatest increase, from 6.2% before the pandemic to 12.1%. 

“There’s a surge, and honestly a lot of it is because some parents are concerned about their children’s welfare and the possibility of them contracting [COVID-19],” said Monica Olivera, a Texas-based blogger for MommyMaestra, a site where Latinx families can learn more about the process of homeschooling their children. Olivera began homeschooling her three children more than a decade ago after she learned the local public school near their former home in North Carolina was labeled as a “failing school.”

“When it came down to it, I was not comfortable with most of my options,” Olivera said. 

In May, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning government entities from enforcing mask mandates, which has since been tied up in the state court system. District attorneys have said they won’t prosecute schools or cities that do decide to require masks. In August, Abbott issued an executive order banning vaccine mandates. Of the state’s 5.3 million students, at least 51,000 have been infected with COVID-19 since the state started tracking infection rates for this school year on Aug. 8. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous folks face at least twice the risk of COVID-19 infection, illness, and death compared with white people, which may be a contributing factor to their safety concerns. Olivera knows many Texas parents who object to the state’s refusal to institute mask mandates in schools, but said that the problem of an unsafe school environment predates the pandemic. 

“Honestly, I really think that the main reason why a lot of Hispanic parents are starting to homeschool is two-fold: One has been … the rhetoric that was being promoted over the past four or five years during the last presidency. I think a lot of parents felt like their children weren’t safe because they were being bullied or labeled or there [were] just a couple of incidents in schools,” Olivera said. “I had parents that would say, you know, my kids just can’t go through this and I want to give homeschooling to try.” 

Joyce Burges, the co-founder and program director of National Black Home Educators, an organization that provides support to Black families seeking to homeschool their children, says that Black parents aren’t just motivated to educate their children from home due to the pandemic, but because of what they’ve seen of their children’s learning environment since Zoom and online classes started. 

Of equal importance, Burges said, is the emotional, mental, and psychological growth that parents are able to provide through a curriculum that centers, rather than erases, Black history and culture. Given the national attack on anti-racist curriculum in schools, both the unwillingness to acknowledge Black history in the context of American white supremacy might deter Black parents from sending their children back to the traditional classroom.

“There is no content as it relates to Black Americans and their contributions and achievements, either in music or art, history, [and] science” Burges said. “There is not a well-formatted or a well-developed curriculum in your regular school setting that promotes the achievements of African Americans. And some Black parents are really upset about that because their children are not learning or being inspired [and] don’t have the role models to learn about our people and our culture.”

In addition to problems with noninclusive curricula and few COVID-19 safety precautions in some school districts, concerns about potentially expanding police surveillance on school campuses have also deterred some parents from sending their kids back to the classroom. Studies have shown that Black students are targeted the most by on-campus police, adding to the safety concerns Black parents already face when sending their children to school.

Katherine Dunn, director of Advancement Project National Office’s Opportunity to Learn program, understands why Black and brown parents are deciding not to continue with in-school education. 

“I think it’s a very understandable choice given the conditions that a lot of students face in this moment,” Dunn said. “Schools have not served Black and brown students. They’re not places where they are safe.” 

To Dunn, what feels important in this moment is to recognize that the pandemic’s impact on public education is an opportunity for organizing for systemic changes to the country’s education apparatus. To create safe schools and define what safety means for their children, parents and communities have to demand that school boards and local officials work to decarcerate schools, increase funding for arts and music programs, and advocate for smaller class sizes. Dunn cites Oakland, California, where the Black Organizing Project worked in the East Bay community for nearly a decade to eliminate the Oakland Unified School District’s police department.

At the end of the day, Dunn said, “we see freedom in education as … you get to show up to school, and be safe, and feel liberated, and be, and learn in community with your peers.” 

This article was made possible in part through a grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

Ray Levy Uyeda

Ray Levy-Uyeda is a Bay Area-based freelance writer who covers justice and activism. Find them on Twitter @raylevyuyeda.