A Tale of Two Pandemics: Black Family Engagement at the Intersection of Distance Learning and Black Lives Matter
The recent global pandemic triggered by the spread of COVID-19 left the majority of school systems across the United States moving quickly toward remote learning and hybrid models of education. As school buildings closed, many K – 12 school systems adopted a form of whole-school distance learning, leaving students to learn from home and families to support these swift changes. A report released by "Urban District #1" in the Los Angeles area highlighted that Black students remained less active online than their White peers during the early stages of the pandemic. Black students and their families also navigated the country's "racial reckoning" due to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other unarmed Black men and women at the hands of the police. This qualitative study was guided by three goals: (1) to understand how Black students and their families experienced distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic; (2) to examine how schools attempted to engage with Black students and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic, if at all; and (3) to build on the scant literature on the experiences of Black families during the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of distance learning. I conducted nine focus groups with 10 students and 20 parents that explored Black middle and high school students and their families' distance learning experiences. The data led to several notable findings. Black students and their families navigated a host of technological, social-emotional, mental health, and academic challenges in the move to implement remote learning. Parents' roles shifted dramatically to support this new normal. Additionally, students and parents felt that new flexibilities, school supports, and new tools were positives to implementing distance learning. Though students and parents identified some bright spots, communication between schools and families remained challenging. Further, I found that due to the coverage of deaths of unarmed Black women and men at the hands of the police and the media attention to subsequent protests, students and parents facilitated more conversations about race, racism, and the role of the police between each other and their peers. The study suggests that in the wake of the pandemic and potential new forms of hybrid education, education systems should invest in integrated supports for Black students and their families and more culturally-relevant, distance learning capacity-building opportunities for school staff. Recommendations based on the findings share directions for future research and implications for institutional change to better support Black students and their families.