Parents of students in the Santa Fe Public Schools have a choice this fall. They can either send their kids back to school part-time in a hybrid model as soon as officials say it is safe to do so, or keep their kids at home to continue with the remote learning model for the rest of the year.
Responses to an SFPS parent survey show that while half of all parents want to send their kids back and half want to keep their kids home, those choices fall along demographic lines: The whiter and wealthier the demographic of a school, the more likely parents at that school are to choose the hybrid model.
But as individuals, parents don't base their choices on the demographic boxes they fit into, and there's a lot more at play than race and income.
SFR spoke to nearly 30 parents to get a sense of the many factors that influence their back-to-school decisions.
The district began the school year in mid-August with an all-remote learning plan that teachers' union and administration officials agreed would last through the first nine weeks of school.
Carmen Miramontes knew immediately that she would keep the kids at home after that—her husband has cancer and is at high risk if he catches COVID-19—but it didn't make the choice easy, or simple.
Miramontes is a kitchen staff-member at Cesar Chavez Elementary School who distributes lunches for parents who drive up. It's a Thursday and her children, Trigo Baquetero and Sophia Cardenas, in fourth and second grade at Nina Otero Community School, sit diligently behind their computers in the school's half-dark auditorium.
Sophia is in the midst of a science lesson, raising her hand to name liquids such as milk and mouthwash. Trigo should be in science class too, but he can't connect to the online classroom. He shows SFR the blank screen and the error message, shrugging in disappointment.
"I think it was going to be a great day today," he tells SFR, explaining that he was excited for an experiment the class had planned, "but now it just kinda sucks because I can't do anything."
Miramontes admits she is worried the remote learning curriculum will negatively impact the kids' academic performance, telling SFR in Spanish, "I worry that they get bored or don't concentrate well, that there are too many problems with the internet. But I am very afraid of sending them back. The risk for our family is too great."
Outside, SFR talks to another parent, Christine Ornelas, who plans to keep her 17-year-old daughter home from Capital High School until there is a vaccine. The virus has already hit close to home and she tears up as she talks about how she lost an uncle to COVID-19 this summer. She says her daughter is adapting well to the online curriculum.
At Ortiz Middle School, Maria Flores tells SFR her three kids are struggling to keep up online—especially her 12-year-old who can't sit still, so she's sending them back as soon as possible.
Capital High School business teacher Juan Acevedo says he's still not sure what to choose. His father-in-law is immune compromised, but son, who is in pre-K at Piñon Elementary, has special needs and "demands a lot of attention."
Keadra Friar has a son in first grade at Acequia Madre Elementary. She is the only parent SFR talks to who contracted COVID-19 herself, but this has not deterred her own family or others from sending their kids back to the school.
"I think it helps that this is such a small school and that there is a really close community of parents," she says, adding that her child has a learning disability and does much better in the classroom.
Acequia Madre and Piñon Elementary are the two schools with the highest percentage of parents who want to send their children back to school, according to the district's survey. This makes Piñon—a school where nearly 85% of students are Hispanic and more than half qualify for free lunch—an outlier.
All the other schools where at least half of parents want their kids to return to for the hybrid model are approximately 40% white, with less than 25% of students qualifying for free lunch.
Superintendent Veronica García and school board members say they were surprised to notice this pattern, and can only speculate as to the reasons that lie behind it.
Kenya Bradshaw, the vice president at TNTP—an organization that works to address educational inequalities and inequities in school districts across the country—says she's not surprised.
"We see this as a trend across the country," she says, "If you look at [COVID-19] cases per 10,000 people, most cases fall into Black and Latino communities…What we are seeing is that parents of color across the country have been impacted at much higher rates and are taking more precautions sending their kids back to school."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story used the former little of the organization, TNTP, which was previously called The New Teacher Project.