Why Aren’t Latino Students Returning to Their Classrooms?

The public continues to hear how the Latino community has been disproportionately affected by COVID, and Latino parents are too frightened to send their kids into the relative-unknown. Despite someone like district superintendent Austin Beutner reassuring in a weekly update, “We’ve upgraded the air filtration systems in every classroom, reconfigured school facilities to keep all at a school appropriately distanced, doubled custodial staff, and we’ll provide weekly covid tested for every student and staff member,” parents like Graciela Osorio have decided, “I’d rather keep them at home where I know they are safe.”

For Graciela, keeping her two sons safe means not sending them back to their elementary school in Monterey Park, California. Graciela lost a husband and her sons lost a father from COVID in January—he was only 51 years old. 39% of California’s population is Latino, but they make up 47% of COVID deaths, according to the state Department of Public Health, which means their risk of death over whites is 2.3 times higher. The fact that Latinos are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to work various jobs exposing them to the public, the fact that they are less likely to have health insurance (so they seek less care), and the fact that living in a multigenerational household virally spreads COVID quickly and easily, all add up, backing this reason Latinos fear being exposed to COVID but also a fear of exposing others.

It’s counterintuitive in many ways, Graciela wanted to keep her sons in a small flower shop where “It’s loud. It’s cramped. It’s bustling with people.” Graciela also has the rest of her family to keep in mind—if she sent her boys back to school, and one or both of them fell ill, ten people subsequently risk falling ill. Graciela must navigate everyone’s safety now, so it seems. In addition to those concerns, she wouldn’t be able to get the boys to and from school because she must work to support the whole family now that her husband is no longer there to shoulder some of that burden.

Another issue that is largely going ignored that involves both students and their parents is having access to the resources they need to mentally and emotionally adjust to the way they’ve lived for the past year and how they’re just expected to switch into what “normal” used to be. There’s a lot of free-floating anxiety, and most students wouldn’t understand what they’re feeling—sudden social interaction may be difficult and inadvertently isolating. In closing, one of Graciela’s sons echoes this assumption quite clearly, “We might go back,” Abraham said. “For now, we keep each other company.”