Data suggests COVID-19 racial disparities impacting decisions about education

Schools in Jefferson County with the highest rate of remote learners are predominately Black

COVID-19 and racial disparities

CENTER POINT, AL (WBRC) - Phonics in the family room, AP Biology in a bedroom, and a lesson in equivalent fractions in the living room. Irene Skinner has five daughters, the youngest is in Kindergarten, the oldest is a senior in high school, and this year, they’re all learning from home.

“It’s not perfect, but I’m trying,” said Skinner with an exhausted smile.

There are easier options but for Skinner and her family, there was no other choice.

“I don’t want to take a chance and put myself at risk, nor my kids, nor my mother,” said Skinner.

Skinner said her family’s risk of complications from COVID-19 are increased because of her health, her mother’s age and their race.

Black people are dying in Alabama from COVID-19 at a higher rate than any other race, according to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH). National data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows once infected, Black people are 4.7 times more likely than white people to be hospitalized.

“We are told that it’s affecting the Black population, the Hispanic population, so if someone tells you, ‘Hey this is what it’s affecting,’ yeah you’re going to be more on alert, you’re going to be more, 'Hey, my kids are going to stay home,” said Skinner.

Skinner said her decision was supported, and in-part influenced, by her daughter’s principal at Center Point High School.

“Let me tell you, Principal Phillips is awesome,” said Skinner.

She added, “He is going to inform you of everything. He is going to tell you the good, the bad, the ugly, the in-between. He lets us know.”

“I don’t have a job description, I just do what needs to be done,” said Principal Van Phillips, Center Point High School.

This summer, when cases of COVID-19 were surging in Center Point, Principal Phillips thought more needed to be done.

“It got scary for us during the course of the summer because we were hearing almost every week someone in our school had COVID, or a parent had COVID,” explained Principal Phillips. “So, all of the schools in Center Point, all of the principals in Center Point started sending out SchoolCasts and information to parents.”

Principal Phillips worked with Jefferson County Schools and the Jefferson County Department of Health to reach out to families and explain how this virus was disproportionately impacting Black and Hispanic people.

“We believe in telling the truth, and if the truth, in our community we are negatively impacted by COVID and every national study will tell you that, then it’s incumbent upon me as principal to tell my community and lead my community and to give them all the information I have.”

Aside from a virtual-only school, Center Point High School has the highest percentage of students learning from home, according to data provided by Jefferson County Schools (JEFCOED).

An analysis of the most current available data provided by JEFCOED and the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) shows schools with a predominately Black population had more students learning remotely than schools that are majority white. While 58 percent of schools in the district are predominately Black, 94 percent of schools with at least half of its students learning from home have more Black students than any other race.*

On average, schools that are predominately Black have 52 percent of students learning remotely, compared to 22 percent of students learning remotely at predominately white schools, according to this data.

“I think the community got the message,” said Principal Phillips.

He added, “There are just some things that we have to do to save our lives.”

Skinner said she plans to keep her children home as long as possible.

“We are going to take the extra step to protect our kids.”

*WBRC Fox6 has requested and is waiting for demographic data on one school with at least 50 percent of students learning remotely. That school has been excluded from this count until that data is available.

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