Boston public school students are almost evenly split about their preference for hybrid or remote-only learning this fall, according to newly released results of a massive online survey that also exposes a racial divide among families and a difference depending on where they live in the city.
Seventy-one percent — or more than 38,000 — of the city’s 54,000 students responded to the survey, which was conducted the last week in August.
“As of Friday, August 28, over 60 percent of BPS students and families had chosen a learning model for the fall. However, response rates vary by student groups,’' said the initial results from the district’s learning model survey which was obtained by the Globe.
Overall, 51 percent of the respondents chose the hybrid learning model — which will have students in classrooms part of the week — compared to 49 percent who backed remote-only learning.
The findings were in contrast to those from a survey conducted this summer by the Boston Teachers Union, which found overwhelming support among teachers for remote-only instruction. Three-quarters of the respondents in the union’s survey said they favored remote-only instruction.
In the student responses, 73 percent of the white respondents said they favored a hybrid model, while Black, Asian, and Hispanic students selected remote learning over hybrid learning.
Students who live in predominantly Black, Hispanic, and Asian neighborhoods such as Roxbury, Mattapan, Hyde Park, and Chinatown registered some of the highest support for remote-only instruction.
Those who live in the city’s whitest neighborhoods — North End, Downtown, West Roxbury, West End, and Charlestown — had the highest support for hybrid learning.
“I’m not necessarily surprised by that,’' said Stephanie Pepin, an incoming sophomore who lives in Mattapan.
Pepin, who attends John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, said she selected hybrid learning to give her some time in the classroom because she likes being in a school environment and close to her friends. She said her spring remote-only experience was less than perfect, with Zoom sessions “being off the rails,” broken links on websites, and sessions clashing with other classes on her schedule.
Not being able to easily talk to teachers was also a problem, Pepin said.
“I picked hybrid so I can have more access to my teachers,” said Pepin, who is Hispanic.
Her friends, however, selected remote learning because they like the flexibility that comes with doing schoolwork at home, she said.
School officials released their reopening plan nearly two weeks ago, envisioning that all students would learn from home initially but could then return to the classroom in waves, by grade level and by need, in October and November. They said the hybrid model would be introduced in phases, with the highest-needs students returning two days a week at the start of October, elementary and middle school students coming back by early November, and all high school students returning to classrooms two days a week by the end of November.
As they prepare for the start of the 2020-2021 school year, district officials said Saturday they offered families a choice: remaining in remote learning, as was the case this spring when lessons went online due to the pandemic, or selecting a hybrid model that will welcome students into classrooms for in-person learning.
The district sent a selection form to each family to collect answers, and officials are working with schools now to finalize schedules.
“BPS believes it is critical that our students, particularly our most vulnerable learners, have the option to return to in-person learning as soon as it is safe to do so, though we also understand some families’ concerns and desire to choose remote learning,” Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said in a statement. “We are grateful to the nearly 40,000 families who have responded and we remain committed to reaching every family. Our intent all along has been to offer and honor family choice for the new school year. We know many students will benefit from learning with their classmates and teachers in school and have been working hard to make that opportunity available.”
The statement said the district has been working on cleaning school buildings, instituting new health and safety protocols, and partnering with teachers to get ready for in-person learning. Officials also have worked this summer to significantly improve remote learning through the district-wide purchase of online learning platforms, reviewing and sharing best practices in scheduling and family communication, and improving support for families whose students will learn remotely, the statement said.
The district e-mailed forms, in 10 languages, to parents to complete beginning Aug. 19 and ending Aug. 28. Each student could select remote-only or hybrid learning.
The results, which school officials said were presented at an equity round-table discussion Friday, were broken down by race and ethnicity, neighborhood, and grade level. They were also broken down by disability, English learners, economics, and housing status.
Families that do not respond can be put into a hybrid learning model and can opt later for remote learning later, the results said.
While the overall response is almost evenly split, responses varied among different student groups:
- Among students with disabilities, 49 percent of the respondents said they preferred hybrid, while 51 percent selected remote learning.
- Forty-seven percent of the English learners preferred hybrid and 53 percent liked remote learning.
- Forty-four percent of the district’s homeless students who responded to the survey checked hybrid, compared to 56 percent who liked remote.
For students in grades 1 through 12, learning preferences were mostly evenly split. But the hybrid model was much more popular with families with children in K-0 kindergarten: 63 percent of the respondents favored it, compared to 38 percent who picked remote instruction.
Alexandra Patsis, an incoming senior at Boston Community Leadership Academy, said she and her mother decided it would be better to stay home.
“For me, it would be so confusing [if we come back in November],’' said Patsis, who is white and lives in Roslindale. “We’re not going to be going to school every day [if we do hybrid], so it’s confusing, pointless especially for high school seniors” who will be focused on completing their college applications and wrapping up their public school careers.