As many children and teens return to a new school year after Labor Day, educators and advocates are sounding the alarm on the challenges faced by Black and Hispanic students.
Those students were left behind during the pandemic, according to a Department of Education report released this summer, that showed the COVID-19 pandemic worsened disparities in access and opportunities for students of color in public schools.
"The pandemic has exacerbated preexisting inequities," said Shavar Jeffries, president of advocacy group Education Reform Now. "Our school districts need to implement evidence-based interventions to address any learning loss that our students experience."
The pandemic turned the world upside down and students, educators and administrators had to adapt to a changing world. Some students began virtual schooling, which highlighted gaps in internet and technology access.
According to the 2020 Census data, about 1 in 10 Black and Latinx homes lacked consistent computer access, compared to only 6.7% of white households -- meaning children had a harder time accessing online classroom materials, homework or virtual classes themselves.
The data also showed that Black households were twice as likely as white households to report inconsistent internet access, and Latinx households were one-and-a-half times more likely than white households.
For others, schooling wasn't the only hurdle amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For some, the virus hit close to home.
Many students were faced with sick or dying family members, friends and neighbors. Hispanics are about two times more likely to catch COVID-19, according to the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Black children made up 20% of those who lost a parent to COVID-19 prior to February 2021, despite only making up 14% of all children in the U.S, according to JAMA Pediatrics.
Black and Latinx adults were at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, and were more likely to be hospitalized or die from the virus, according to the CDC. Adding to these horrific outcomes, social isolation forced many to face new mental health struggles.
"This has been such a disruptive event that has touched a lot of families personally, and children, they take all of this in," said Amalia Chamorro, the director of the Latino civil rights organization UnidosUS's Education Policy Project.
"It's going to be important for school systems to provide wraparound supports to not only help students get back on track with unfinished learning but also to provide assistance and support along the way," Chamorro added.
Education advocates are hoping teachers and school administrators turn these statistics into learning opportunities for supporting students of color. She said accelerating students forward, instead of focusing on remediation, can help students who've fallen behind during the pandemic.
"You start with the current grades competency ... then you could pinpoint where students are struggling and provide that support," Chamorro said.
Culturally competent outreach services, tutoring and counseling can help turn the tide on disparities in education, she added. Chamorro also said that offering Spanish-language resources to Latino and Hispanic families so they can address needs at home and help students outside of the walls of school can make a big difference.
Chamorro also recommended reaching out to local community organizations that can help students find safe spaces to talk about mental health, schooling and mentorship from people who understand their cultural background.
However, Marc Morial, President and CEO of the civil rights group National Urban League, said that teachers are the experts in the classroom and that local and federal governments should be listening to them about what their students need to succeed.
"People have to understand the interdependency of the issue, and the necessity of ensuring that we close these resource gaps in education," Morial said. "These young people have borne the most difficult brunt of the pandemic and have to be given extra support. And I think the smart thing to do is to say to teachers: 'What do you need? We have resources, how should we deploy them?'"