July 23, 2020

Poll shows majority of Latino parents concerned about distance learning


A majority of Latino parents in New Mexico are concerned their children will fall behind in their education because of extended time away from school and increased online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to newly released survey data. 

The survey was conducted by Latino Decisions, a national polling and research group, and commissioned by a coalition of New Mexico advocacy groups. 

According to the survey, 81 percent of primary caregivers who were polled said they were concerned about their children’s time away from an actual classroom. The survey also showed that 48 percent of Latino families in New Mexico think that help from the state with online education is the most important issue, while 36 percent of those who were surveyed said the most important issue was getting more information about how school will proceed in several weeks. 

Dr. Gabriel Sanchez with Latino Decisions said during a news conference that one of the takeaways from the survey is that many families that were struggling to get by prior to the COVID-19 pandemic are now facing more challenges in order to keep their children engaged in school. 

“For these families, especially thinking about a hybrid model or having to go fully online again in the fall, that time gap from being able to be equipped with the tools to be able to keep up with the education is just going to make those underlying inequalities much greater,” Sanchez said. 

The survey also showed that 28 percent of the families said they only have internet access through a mobile phone and 21 percent said they do not have any access to the internet. 

Sanchez said there are several possible solutions to keep kids on track in their education, but that technical steps like increasing wireless internet access spots across the state and creating distance learning methods not reliant on the internet need to happen soon. 

“I think we have a bit of time, but that time is shrinking, to be able to make some aggressive steps to ensure that all children, not just those that have access to high speed internet, are able to continue with their education,” Sanchez said. 

Johana Bencomo, a Las Cruces city councilor and the director of faith-based advocacy group 

New Mexico CAFé, said keeping primarily Spanish speaking families updated can help ease anxiety or confusion about what’s expected of parents and students. 

“For [CAFé], the thing that’s most important is, and we’ve been doing this with a lot of our partners statewide since this pandemic began, it’s just really bridging the communication gap and ensuring that our families have good information and relevant information in Spanish,” Bencomo said. 

Javier Martínez, the executive director of Partnership for Community Action and a New Mexico state representative, said complicating the issue is the fact that many immigrant families do not qualify for federal or state financial assistance and cannot find jobs that allow them to work from home. 

“Those folks, in many cases, absolutely have to leave the house to go work in whatever trade they’re in, and that’s a complicating factor,” Martínez said. “So we are working actively with the state to identify some sort of program to help support those families.”

Martínez said his group asked Albuquerque Public Schools to create a technical assistance process to at least partially remove the burden from individual teachers. 

“One of the things we saw between the end of March and the end of May, was that you had teachers pulling triple duty, sometimes teaching, [and also doing] social work and technical assistance for families to use that technology, and that’s unfair,” Martínez said. “It’s unfair for the teachers and for the student and is unfair for the family.”

The survey results come weeks before New Mexico schools are set to start. The state’s Public Education Department has largely left specifics of how the year will go up to individual districts.