Choice With(out) Equity? Family Decisions of Child Return to Urban Schools in Pandemic

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Robert Cotto, Jr.
Sarah Woulfin


In response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, most schools across the country closed in-person instruction for a period of time and many shifted to online schooling. Beginning in fall 2020, schools around the United States began reopening and many districts offered families a decision or “choice” to return their children to an in-person or online schooling experience. In many cities, this approach complicated existing school choice and permanent closure policies with already existing equity issues. Building upon previous scholarship on school choice and closure, this study draws on the concept of school choice with(out) equity (Frankenberg et al., 2010; Scott & Stuart Wells, 2013; Horsford et al., 2019). Using data from an online survey (n = 155 participants) in August 2020, this study examines why families (50% white, 50% people of color) decided to return their children to in-person schooling in Hartford, Connecticut. This study uses a mixed-method analysis of qualitative responses and quantitative data to understand family decisions to return to in-person schooling (Creswell, 2014). Rather than school choices with full equity considerations during the pandemic, these family responses focused on needs of childcare for full-time work and health safety. These responses suggest a partial equity in the landscape of available choices. The study raises questions about reapplying old forms of school choice to a new form of temporary school closure during pandemic.

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