Virus, Violence Influence Asian Americans’ Decision to Send Children to School

27 April 2021

Across the country, schools for children of all ages are reopening. Asian American families are struggling with making a decision whether to send their children back into classrooms. Their concern is based on increasing anti-Asian behavior.

A Chinese American mother in a town outside Boston is sending her sons to in-person classes this month. Earlier, another student made a racist "slanted-eyes" movement with his hands to one of the boys.

In the Dallas area, a Korean American family is keeping their middle school aged child in online classes for the rest of the year. They made the decision after they saw a question filled with racist Chinese stereotypes on one of her tests.

Asian American students have the highest rates of at home learning more than a year after the coronavirus pandemic closed school buildings. Earlier this month, the federal government released a report that found just 15 percent of Asian American nine to ten-year-olds were attending classes in-person as of February. More than half of white children that age are attending in person.

Kim Horrigan, left, sits with her son Conor Horrigan, as Conor does math homework at their home, in Quincy, Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Kim Horrigan, left, sits with her son Conor Horrigan, as Conor does math homework at their home, in Quincy, Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Those rates appear to be rising in some cities, but are still far lower than those of Black, Latino and white students. Sacramento, Boston and Chicago public schools, for example, expect that about 33 percent of Asian American students will return to in-person classes this month. In comparison, they expect some 70 percent of white students to return.

In Quincy, a small town near Boston, Kim Horrigan said she and her husband have struggled with their decision to keep their 8-year-old son home this year.

Horrigan said she has never really considered racism a threat to her family, even though the Asian-American population of the town has grown to 25 percent, and there are some racial problems in the community.

She is worried about exposing her household, including her aged parents and her two young children, to COVID-19.

"We've taken so many precautions, she said. "Why would we drop our guard now, with just a few weeks left?"

Anti-Asian behavior has affected many Asian American children. A September report by Stop AAPI Hate found that about 25 percent of Asian American children said they had experienced discrimination. That includes spoken words, social shunning, and physical attacks during the pandemic.

Family support systems

Concerns about virus spread and rising racism are reasons for the in-person learning differences. Peter Kiang is director of Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. He says that at-home learning is often a better choice for many Asian families who live in multi-generational households.

"These ethnic-defined support systems have been operating for more than a year already while parents are out working long hours," Kiang said.

It is important to note that many Asian Americans live in and around large cities like Boston. Schools there have just begun to re-open, said Robert Teranishi. He is a professor of education and Asian American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, more than 30 percent of public school students are from Asian families, and there is no plan for the return of students 12 and older.

Feeling trapped at home

Grace Hu is a 16-year-old in Sharon, Massachusetts. She has been learning at home all school year. She found it easy to decide to go back to in-person classes later this month.

"I'm feeling trapped at home," Hu said. "I just want to see my classmates again."

Meanwhile, in Needham, Massachusetts, Denise Chan said she is not concerned about placing her three young sons back in classes full-time in recent weeks, even after the "slanted-eyes" incident.

She said her son talked with his teacher about the racist comment. His teacher had the other student apologize, and she promised to talk about racism in the classroom.

I'm Jill Robbins.

And I'm Caty Weaver.

Philip Marcelo wrote this story for the Associated Press. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.


Words in This Story

slanted – adj. angled; to not be level

stereotypen. an often unfair and untrue belief that many people have about all people or things with a particular characteristic

teenagern. someone who is between 13 and 19 years old

bigotryn. behavior of someone who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group)

shun - to avoid (someone or something)

discouragingadj. causing loss of hope or confidence

crueladj. used to describe people who hurt others and do not feel sorry about it

positiveadj. thinking that a good result will happen; hopeful or optimistic

What do you think of the worries of the Asian American parents? Are there similar problems where you live? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.