Sanitizing supplies sit on the dashboards of school buses in North St. Paul, March 2020. Credit: Evan Frost | MPR News file

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Less than 50 percent of Black, Latinx, and Asian parents are comfortable with sending their children back to school in the fall, according to survey data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education. 

The data suggest 49.9 percent of Black families, 49.1 percent of Latinx families, and 39.2 percent of Asian families feel comfortable sending their students back for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic closed schools in March. More than 20 percent of each group said they would not be comfortable, with the remainder expressing uncertainty. 

The survey results come as the Minnesota Department of Education, or MDE, weighs whether to reopen schools in the fall and how to do it. President Trump has been making an aggressive push for schools to reopen, even threatening to cut schools’ federal funding if they do not. The vast majority of school funding comes from state and local revenue, with only a small sliver from the federal government.

MDE surveyed more than 130,000 parents across the state on the successes and failures of distance learning in the spring, and how they feel about schools potentially reopening in the fall. The department made the voluntary survey available in Spanish, Hmong and Somali. More than 600 surveys were returned in Spanish; about 30 were completed in each Hmong and Somali. 

Overall, 64 percent of parents said they were comfortable with schools reopening in the fall, with another 24 percent still not sure. 

The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately harmed communities of color throughout the country. Minnesota Health Department data shows that Black, Latinx, and Asian Minnesotans are more likely to be hospitalized or die from the coronavirus than white Minnesotans. 

Families across demographic groups cited public health as their main concern for going back. Black and Native American families were more likely than others to report concerns about medically fragile family members.

Schools are awaiting a decision about reopening from the Minnesota Department of Education, expected in late July. In advance of that announcement, MDE has told schools to prepare three different plans: for in-person classes, distance learning and a combination of the two. Results from this survey will be one of the factors that inform MDE’s decision.

Becky Z. Dernbach is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.