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Virtual Learning affects Latinx student disproportionately Photo: Getty Images
Virtual Learning affects Latinx student disproportionately Photo: Getty Images

How Is Online Education Affecting Latinx Children During COVID-19?

At the center of the digital divide revealing itself to the U.S. amid virtual school are the nation's Latinx students

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Officials have fought tooth and nail to reopen the economy, reopen schools, and though the sane decision was to continue virtually, it is furthering a digital divide that has always been present. 

Regardless, school is officially back in session. Fall weather is upon us, and the uncertainty as a result of the divide and what the future holds is thickening the air.

Some of the country’s most deep in the divide are its Latinx students.

A study conducted by the Independent Analysis Unit at the Los Angeles Unified School District found that Hispanic and Black students had the lowest participation rates for middle and high school after they went virtual in response to COVID-19. 

Just 67% of Hispanic middle schoolers actively participated in class and 71% of Hispanic high schoolers according to the study. The Los Angeles Times calculated that to be about 50,000 Hispanic and Black students across the school district. 

Those that didn’t participate either logged in and didn’t view their work, didn’t turn in work or didn’t log in at all.

But rather than reprimand Latinx students for not showing up, it helps to understand why they might not be present.

The barriers

For one, many Latinx students, not just in Los Angeles, but across the country have parents that are essential workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Common Sense survey, nine in 10 Latinx students worry about the repercussions of COVID-19 on their families. That includes both health effects — the Latinx community is the hardest hit in the U.S. by the numbers — and financially as parents lose jobs and must look elsewhere to support their families.  

Before jumping to attack, it’s not to say they also don’t stress about school. According to Salud America, Latinx teens are more likely to be worried about falling behind in school and after school activities. Seventy percent of Latino teens worry about falling behind on homework, while 62% fear falling off with extracurriculars. 

It can also be difficult to keep up if teachers aren’t able to connect on a consistent basis.

Another survey conducted by Common Sense from March 25 to April 1 of 2020 reflected that only one in four teens would speak with their teacher even once a week, and worse, 40% wouldn’t even attend online class once schools closed. 

Another reason for the lack of participation is the technological divide between some Latinx families and the virtual curriculums schools are forcing students to go through.

Many Latinx families don’t have the computers or Internet to access their online school. 

A Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs survey of Latino families about online schooling released in May 2020, showed that while they thought schools did well to adjust, it left out those without the technological capabilities to participate. 

There’s also a language barrier for many.

According to the same Los Angeles Unified School District report, on average, less than half of students classified as English learners participated in virtual school in the Spring. It was 20 percentage points lower than the students who were English-proficient.

But with all the barriers, what is being done to help overcome them? 

Overcoming the barriers

On the whole, it hasn’t been enough, however in Philadelphia, the city’s initiative called PHLConnectED, is a massive partnership with the private sector to get internet in homes for the school year as well as getting students without computers access to them.

In Arizona, the nonprofit, Chicanos Por La Causa is also refurbishing old computers and donating them to families to get their kids connected for school. 

To deal with the trauma of home life amid a pandemic, schools are also taking their counseling services virtual to help. In Philadelphia particularly, amid a spike in gun violence, schools are targeting those students close to the trauma with virtual services.

The same could be done for those Latinx students with essential worker parents that risk their lives every day.

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