[Editor’s note: Though Policy Watch has, like a growing number of journalism outlets, generally adopted the descriptor “Latinx” for use in its news stories and commentaries, we recognize that “Latino” remains the preferred term for many organizations and individuals — including some highlighted in this report. Out of respect for them and for the sake of consistency, we have opted to employ it here.]
One in 10 Latino households have someone in the home who has contracted the coronavirus. More than half of the nation’s Latino families face job loss and income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eighty-five percent of Latino parents are worried about children contracting coronavirus if and when schools reopen for in-person instruction while 77% are concerned about their children falling behind academically if they don’t return to school.
And more than half of Latino parents with children in K-12 schools said they are thinking about not sending them back to school this year. A third of parents with college-aged children are also on the fence about sending their children off to college.
Those stark numbers (see the polling data here)  from a recent poll by Latino Decisions , a Seattle-based organization that conducts political opinion research, shine a disturbing light on the desperate impact the COVID-19 pandemic has on Latino families, many of whom serve as frontline, essential workers and don’t have the option of working from home.
And as students begin to return to schools, the poll with more than 1,842 respondents — 838 of them with one or more children age 17 or younger — exposes growing despair and fear among Latino Americans about sending children back to school for in-person instruction before a vaccine is found or states become better at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
Latino Decisions conducted the poll on behalf of New York-based SOMOS US , a network of physicians and pediatrician committed to community-based care, and UnidosUS , a nonprofit organization that advocates for Latinos in the areas of civic engagement, civil rights and immigration, education, workforce and the economy, health and housing.
“Latinos continue to suffer devastating effects from the coronavirus pandemic,” Henry R. Munoz III, cofounder of SOMOS US, said this week during a press conference to discuss the impact of the coronavirus on Latinos and Latino Decision’s new polling data.
Munoz, former finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee, added: “Latinos are now the hardest hit racial or ethnic group in America in terms of both health impacts and unemployment. And because of how the COVID-19 pandemic has hit, and whom it’s hit the hardest, the conversation about returning to school is doubly difficult for the country’s Latino parents.”
Growing frustration and concern
Families are further exasperated because the federal government, and some states, failed to provide leadership and the necessary resources to safely reopen schools, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said during the news conference.
“It didn’t happen because as soon as they [Republican leaders] figured out that this disproportionately hurts people of color, they didn’t care,” said Weingarten, who oversees the nation’s largest teacher’s union.
Weingarten said it’s “unconscionable” that schools aren’t better prepared to reopen safely after states and federal officials had months to plan and get it right.
“To reopen schools safely, you have to have a testing, tracing and isolation system. You have to have the guardrails in schools. You have to protect against transmission — meaning masks, physical distancing, and cleaning, as well as hand-washing,” Weingarten said. “This is a pandemic that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people. We need to be prepared to help our kids.”
The poll shows that Latinos trust local medical communities and educators more than they trust politicians to provide accurate information and helpful advice about the coronavirus.
Only 22% said they trusted President Trump to provide accurate and helpful information about the virus.
That number dipped to 18% for Latinos in North Carolina where the population has been hit hard by the coronavirus. Latinos are 10% of the state’s population but are 45% of COVID-19 cases for which ethnicity was recorded.
Latinos weigh a return to school
Latino Decision’s poll found that 53% of Latinos polled in North Carolina are considering not sending their children back to school. Meanwhile, 35% of parents with children in college said they were thinking about not sending children back to universities.
The poll was conducted between Aug. 7-15 and focused on states with a large population of Latinos. Texas, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Florida, California and Pennsylvania and New York and New Jersey, which were combined for this poll, were oversampled.
Most K-12 schools in North Carolina reopened Aug. 17 with remote-only instruction. Large state-funded universities such as UNC Chapel Hill and N.C. State have been forced to close campuses to in-person instruction after ill-planned re-openings that saw hundreds of students contract the coronavirus, many while attending large on- or off-campus gatherings.
“We have seen so many stories in the news about colleges that reopened in person without taking precautions, and COVID-19 spread,” said Matt A. Barreto, co-founder and managing partner of Latino Decisions. “In the Latino community, we all know someone who has contracted this illness and perhaps died, so parents are taking this very seriously, telling us that even if schools reopen, they may not send their children back to school.”
Barreto said parents also worry about teachers and administrators who would be at risk in schools that reopen for in-person instruction.
“Parents are very concerned about their own children, but also teachers and school administrators who they have relationships with,” Barreto said. “These are leaders in our community.”
Barreto’s poll shows that 79% of Latinos prefer schools to reopen slowly with a phased approach while 29% percent want them to reopen quickly for in-person instruction.
In North Carolina, 81% of Latinos favor a slower, phased reopening compared to 19% who want schools to reopen quickly.
Gov. Roy Cooper directed schools to reopen with a mix of in-person instruction and remote learning but also gave them the option to provide remote-only learning if that was the safest course for their students.
The internet gap
Learning remotely requires that students have internet access. When schools closed to in-person instruction in March, it quickly became apparent that too many students did not have access to high-speed internet connections for online instruction.
Fifty-two percent of Latinos told pollsters that they have trouble connecting to online classes. And 38 % don’t have enough devices for everyone in the home who needs one.
José Hernández-Paris, executive director of the Charlotte-based La Coalición Latinoamericana (Latin American Coalition) ,
recently watched Latino families gather around a school bus near his office to access the internet using a hotspot supplied by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
“We had family’s out here on a fairly warm day, sitting outside trying to connect,” Hernández-Paris said. It makes me wonder what they’ve been doing all this time now that school has started. I’m hearing stories about people going to neighbors or going to stores to try to connect.”
He said the challenges of navigating the digital world for online learning are more acutely felt in homes with younger Latino children.
“The older the children are, the more equipped they are to navigate it themselves, but an early age that is a real challenge,” he said.
Another major concern is that may Latino parents don’t have the luxury of working from home.
“They are the ones cleaning hospitals and houses, doing construction work and building our roads and working in restaurants,” Hernández-Paris said. “This is a cash-based economy and if they don’t work the don’t get any money, so they don’t have the luxury of staying home with their children, and that’s a struggle. What do they do with their kids?”