NEWARK, NJ — As the Newark Public Schools District and other New Jersey schools move to transition students back into the classrooms next month, a recent poll found that voters in the state are split on a return to in-person learning. 

The survey, conducted by Change Research and commissioned by Newark-based non-profit Project Ready, interviewed 960 voters in the state to assess their concerns with the virus, the COVID-19 vaccine, and its impact on personal finances and public education.

One of the key findings stated that 78% of the children of Black parents are more likely to participate in only remote learning instruction than 29% of the children of white parents. Additionally, if given the option, only 24% of Black parents said they would want to return to in-person learning, compared to 73% of white parents.

“As a Black parent myself, these results are deeply troubling,” Project Ready Executive Director Shennell McCloud said. “Not because parents are doing anything wrong by choosing what they believe to be the safest option for their families, but because as a society, we have let families down by not creating the conditions for Black parents to feel comfortable sending their children back into school buildings.

“It's critical that state and city leaders work hard to win families' trust so that inequity in access to learning does not disproportionately harm Black children any more than it already has,” McCloud said. 

The survey comes as the state plans to implement $1.2 billion in grant programs towards school districts to tackle pandemic-induced challenges educators, students and their families are facing. 

As part of a three-pronged approach to address the effects of the pandemic in state schools, Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration will implement “The Road Forward,” a series of coordinated policy initiatives aimed to expand the administration’s efforts to identify and address the academic and mental health impacts of COVID-19, request a waiver to cancel statewide assessments this spring, and evaluate students’ academic performance.

Although the state plans to address learning loss during the pandemic, the survey found widespread concern about kids falling behind with remote learning along with racial and the financial impact of the pandemic. 

The report also indicated “significant” disparities exist between African-American and white families when it comes to their experience with the education their children are receiving as well as socio-economic gaps in digital access during remote learning.

“Overall, few African-American students are attending in-person classroom instruction, however, African-American children are more than two times as likely to be learning remotely than are white children, who are mainly in hybrid situations,” the report said. “If given the option, white families are more likely to want their child in the classroom while two-thirds of African-American families prefer to stay remote.”

For remote learning households, 36% of Black parents say they lack sufficient internet access compared to just 13% of white parents, the report stated. Among households with incomes under $50,000, 9% lack the needed devices, compared to only 1% of households with incomes over $100,000. 

The report also found that while the virus has impacted nearly everyone, communities of color have experienced a disproportionate impact when it comes to effects on personal finances.

African-American households, particularly, have faced significant financial impacts from COVID-19. Overall, 43% of households include someone who had working hours reduced and a quarter (24%) who have lost a job, according to the report. 

“Parents are worried about their kids falling behind with remote learning,” the report said. “Two-thirds (69%) express this emotion, including 75% of white parents and 60% of African-Americans.

“Hispanic (20%) and Black (17%) households are more likely to have been unable to pay the rent or mortgage than those in white (10%) households,” the report stated.