‘It Was Tough’: Some African American Parents Express Concern, Optimism for Upcoming School Year

There are plenty of questions surrounding the upcoming school year. Parents, children and staff will either head back to the classroom or learn virtually. After experiencing learning at home, some parents in Georgia like Keah Humphrey are ready for their kids to get back into the classroom.

“It was tough and with me being a former educator, it was still tough,” Humphrey said.

Humphrey says e-learning was difficult for her and her family. It’s a struggle many parents shared the second half of this past school year. Latasha Emeri, a mother of three, says virtual learning was a hardship for her as well. 

“My mother and my grandmother are both teachers, but I am not a teacher. And I found no joy in teaching my son six months,” Emeri said. 

When COVID-19 shut down schools across the nation, no one knew it would carry over into the next school year. However, the coronavirus is still a global problem and now it’s forcing many to decide between sending their children back to school and letting them attend virtually. 

It’s a decision Humphrey left up to her children. 

“They actually want to go back into the school,” Humphrey said. “We’ve been doing everything else that we want to do. [We’re] trying to take precautions, as far as the mask, the handwashing and all that, so they’re comfortable with going back. They don’t like the idea of getting up and sitting at a screen all day.” 

On the other hand, some are against sending their kids to school over fears of their children contracting the virus and possibly bringing it home. 

High school counselor Jahmar Tate says whether you send your child to school or not, it’s a no-win situation either way.

Latasha Emeri wants kids to return to classroom.
Latasha Emeri of Georgia wants her children to return to the classroom. (PHOTO Chip Matthews)

“When you’re in school, there’s a risk of getting sick, which you don’t want to take,” Tate said. “You might risk getting sick to get this education or do I risk not getting the fidelity of education I deserve because I’m at home doing it virtually?”

For many school districts, starting school in person is not an option. In Georgia, a large number of students will start the year online.

Humphrey feels like virtual learning might be a challenge for some families. 

“I don’t know how virtual would work when you got several kids, they all got to be on at different times and then for my five year old I have to kind of manage and stay on with him while I’m cooking dinner and trying to keep the other ones quiet,” Humphrey said.

The workload may also present a problem for the families that must attend virtually or those that chose that form of schooling.

“Grandma may not have even taken Geometry, so she’s looking at Geometry and has no idea what she’s looking at, might as well be Japanese to her,” Tate said in addressing that challenge. “She has no idea what she’s looking at, so she can’t help you with it. You don’t know what you’re doing, you’re trying to learn online, which is not giving you the tools you need necessarily, as compared to the face-to-face component. Face to face, there’s nothing that’s going to beat that,” said Tate.

Some parents also believe the classroom presents a better learning environment for students. Emeri says her 6-year-old son isn’t the same kid at home compared to at school.

“He just has a different respect for his teacher,” Emeri said. “I’m sure a lot of parents say that their children perform differently, you know, you act different at home than you do out in the streets.” 

School counselors know firsthand the role in-class learning plays in a child’s social development.

According to Tate, “a big part of being a teenager or a student, in general, is that social, emotional component.” He added, “being able to meet your friends, talk to your friends… when you don’t have that it takes a toll on you, takes a toll on your mental well-being as well.” 

California’s largest school districts, Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified, are returning to school online in August. According to the New York City Department of Education, the school year will start with a blended model where students attend in person part of the week and virtually the other half, but families can also choose to attend exclusively online.

“Everything is flexible, so we may just have to change course,” Humphrey said. “If I feel like it’s not working, if a bunch of kids start getting sick or whatever, then I wouldn’t have a problem pulling mine out.”

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO NEXT:

Each county is handling reopening differently, so school officials urge parents to stay up to date with changes at your child’s school. The best way to do that is to contact your local school district. 

It’s also better to do it sooner than later because many school districts are surveying parents and students about their preferences — over whether they want to come back or keep going online.

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