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Far more Asian American students are learning remotely than members of any other racial or ethnic group in the U.S., according to the latest federal data. NPR's Anya Kamenetz reports that the reasons are complex, and the consequences may be damaging.
ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: As of February 2021, almost 7 in 10 Asian American K-12 students were still learning online only, according to the Education Department's latest school survey. That's a dozen points higher than Black and Hispanic students and 45 points higher than white students. One contributing factor could be that many Asian students live in California, where many public schools remained closed in February. But the gap holds across the Northeast, the Midwest and the South, suggesting that Asian students are choosing to stay remote even where there are in-person options.
RUSSELL JEUNG: I think it is striking that Asian Americans are so hesitant to send their kids back to school.
KAMENETZ: Russell Jeung is professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University and co-founder of the group Stop AAPI Hate. They published a report last fall where youths detailed experiences of harassment and physical assault.
JEUNG: Concern about the pandemic plus the concern over the racism that their kids may experience on the way to school or within the classroom are both major issues to sending your kid back to school.
KAMENETZ: Kristie Yu (ph) agrees. She's a 17-year-old junior at West Covina High School in West Covina, Calif.
KRISTIE YU: You see so many different, like, reports and, like, different cases and instances of where people have been attacked. And it's just - it's more than enough to, like, kind of instill caution in you.
OIYAN POON: I know plenty of people, including myself, who have experienced this kind of racialized bullying in schools as children. And as a parent to a young child in public school systems, I'm not comfortable personally - speaking personally now - with sending my child in to schools for that reason.
KAMENETZ: OiYan Poon is an expert in the racial politics of education, access and Asian Americans at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a mother. Poon, Jeung and other experts say beyond the rise in anti-Asian racism, there are more reasons that Asian Americans may be staying home from school in larger numbers. They are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to live in intergenerational households, making them potentially worried about putting grandparents at risk. And Poon says...
POON: Asian Americans tend to be a very transnational population, meaning that we are - the majority of this population is immigrant or has immigrant ties.
KAMENETZ: Looking at the experiences of places like Taiwan or South Korea, some Asian Americans may feel that this country is not taking the pandemic seriously enough.
POON: The last few decades, places in Asia have experienced epidemics, if not pandemics, and have managed things very differently than how the United States has been handling this current pandemic.
KAMENETZ: Van Tran is a sociologist at the City University of New York. He says Asian families, including his own siblings, are connecting on chats and social media and concluding that New York City schools are just not safe. And that's a loss, he says.
VAN TRAN: It cuts to the very core of trust and among immigrant families, what we call an institutional trust, with the public education system being one of the most important ones that many Asian immigrants encounter upon arriving in the United States.
KAMENETZ: Tran and other experts say the educational consequences of extended time in remote learning could be grim, especially for Asian students who are English-language learners. Poon is the mother of a six-year-old daughter in kindergarten in Chicago public schools who is learning remotely this year. And she agrees.
POON: After a while, this virtual learning is just not it.
KAMENETZ: Still, they are debating sending her back to public school in person even this coming fall. Poon says that making public schools feel safe, both physically and emotionally, will take time. Anya Kamenetz, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.