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THE GREAT DIVIDE

After a difficult academic year, the majority of Mass. parents want in-person school this fall

Althea Robinson wants her daughter Neshia Joseph to return to in-person school. So does the current fourth-grader, who attends Neighborhood House Charter School.
Althea Robinson wants her daughter Neshia Joseph to return to in-person school. So does the current fourth-grader, who attends Neighborhood House Charter School.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

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The majority of Massachusetts parents want their children back in the classroom after what many describe as a tumultuous year of stalled learning and isolation, according to poll results set to be released Wednesday.

Sixty-nine percent of Massachusetts parents would like their children to return to in-person school full time, while 28 percent said they’d like their children to continue to have remote schooling at least some of the time, according to a statewide survey of 1,619 parents by MassINC Polling Group. But the findings varied among racial groups, with more Black and Asian parents preferring hybrid schooling than white parents.

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The findings come as New York City and the state of New Jersey, among others, announced they will not provide remote learning options next year. The fate of virtual school in Massachusetts isn’t as clear. State officials have said there will be extremely limited options for remote learning, while over a dozen districts including Boston have applied to the state to create online academies for students who prefer to learn virtually.

On Tuesday, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education started to sketch out priorities to help school administrators and educators prepare for the full return of in-person learning in the fall.

A clear majority of Massachusetts parents surveyed said sending their children to a physical classroom as the best option for catching up on learning they missed over the last 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fifty-five percent of parents said their children need to catch up academically after a lackluster school year. The percentage was slightly higher among Black and Asian parents at 59 and 62 percent, respectively. Yet, 41 percent of Black parents and 36 percent of Asian parents said they want their child to study either exclusively online or in a hybrid system.

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“What we see from these results is urgency,” said Natasha Ushomirsky, state director for Massachusetts at the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based education think tank, which helped design the poll. “Right now is the time for districts to start reaching out to families to get the details in place . . . about how they’re going to provide rigorous classes and the support [students] need to be successful.”

Schools should have more resources to support students this summer and next year, as more state and federal dollars are being designated for “recovery” after a devastating year for many young people.

Dorchester resident Althea Robinson hasn’t thought twice about sending her fourth grade daughter to school next fall. “Oh, she’s going back,” she said with some exasperation in her voice. Her school — Neighborhood House Charter School — only offered remote classes most of the year. “We’re not going through that again.”

Robinson said her daughter needed more support from teachers, and didn’t learn much this year.

The survey, which Robinson participated in, is the fourth in a series probing parent opinion of the pandemic’s impact on education. It was conducted in April and May in both English and Spanish and funded by the Boston-based Barr Foundation. (The foundation also provides financial support for The Boston Globe’s Great Divide team focused on education inequality.)

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Brighton resident Latonya Malone, who is Black and also participated in the poll, wants her 12-year-old daughter to keep studying online in the fall. (Twelve percent of Black parents and 15 percent of Latino parents said they want their children to continue distance learning exclusively, compared with 11 percent of Asian parents and 8 percent of white parents.)

The seventh-grader was doing alright in school before the pandemic, but studying at home has allowed her to better focus and catapult onto the school’s honor roll. “She’s no longer distracted by the other students,” said Malone.

Malone has an autoimmune disease and lives with her elderly mother. Keeping her daughter home, even though she’s vaccinated, would give her peace of mind, she said.

If remote learning isn’t an option next year, Malone isn’t sure what she’ll do. “There are a few of us who are doing good [with online learning],” she said. “I hope they keep it.”

Parents looking for in-person education next year also want schools to use a broad range of strategies to help their children catch up on learning. But only about one-third of parents said attending summer school would be “very helpful.” Participants who said their children had the greatest need to catch up were the most likely to be planning to send their children to summer school. The same was true for parents of children learning English or children in special education.

Some families might not have the opportunity. Robinson doesn’t know yet if her daughter’s charter school will be offering summer school.

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Revere resident Melissa Bustamante hasn’t heard anything about how her district plans to make up for the last year, which her kindergartener and ninth-grader largely spent online.

Bustamante, who participated in the poll, would particularly like a summer enrichment program to prepare her younger child for first grade. She’d also like the school to extend the school day next year. “It would be nice to know . . . if there’s any extra help they’re going to offer,” she said.


Bianca Vázquez Toness can be reached at bianca.toness@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @biancavtoness.