John Horrigan, top left, and his wife Kim Horrigan, top right, stand
for a photograph with their children, from the left, William, 3, Conor,
8, and Sofia, 4, all of Quincy, Massachusetts, outside Montclair
Elementary School, in Quincy. Kim said she and her husband have
struggled all year with their decision to keep their 8-year-old son in
remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Kim Horrigan, left, sits with her son Conor Horrigan, 8, both of
Quincy, Massachusetts, as Conor does math homework at their home, in
Quincy. Kim said she and her husband have struggled all year with their
decision to keep their 8-year-old son in remote learning due to the
coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
High school student Grace Hu, 16, of Sharon, Massachusetts, stands
for a photograph near Sharon High School, in Sharon. Hu, who plans to go
back to in-person classes in April, helped organize a rally in Boston in
early April against anti-Asian hate, but said she’s not concerned about
facing vitriol when her school reopens fully. The district, located
about 27 miles south of Boston, has a sizable Asian student population
and has felt generally safe and welcoming to her. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Asian Americans wary about school amid virus, violence
By Philip Marcelo
The Associated Press
April 19, 2021
BOSTON (AP) — A Chinese-American mother in the Boston suburbs is
sending her sons to in-person classes this month, even after one of them
was taunted with a racist "slanted-eyes" gesture at school, just days
after the killings of women of Asian descent at massage businesses in
In the Dallas area, a Korean-American family is keeping their middle
schooler in online classes for the rest of the year after they spotted a
question filled with racist Chinese stereotypes, including a reference
to eating dogs and cats, on one of her exams.
As high schools and elementary schools across the country gradually
re-open for full-time classes, Asian-American families are wrestling
with whether to send their children back out into the world at a time
when anti-Asian hostility and violence is on the rise.
Some Asian-American parents say they’re content to keep their
children in virtual classes, especially with the school year winding
down and COVID-19 cases rising in places. Others are conceding to
adolescents craving normalcy, while still others refuse to shield their
youths from bigotry.
Asian-American students have the highest rates of remote learning
more than a year after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered school
buildings and forced districts to pivot to online classes. A federal
government survey released earlier this month found just 15% of
Asian-American fourth-graders were attending classes in-person as of
February, compared with more than half of white fourth-graders.
Those rates appear to be rising in some cities, but are still far
lower than those of Black, Latino, and white students. In Sacramento,
Boston, and Chicago public schools, for example, roughly a third of
Asian-American students are expected to return to in-person classes this
month, compared with some 70% of white students, according to the most
recent district data available.
Asian-American youths have also not been spared anti-Asian
harassment. A September report by Stop AAPI Hate found about 25% of
Asian-American youths surveyed experienced discrimination, including
verbal harassment, social shunning, cyberbullying, and physical assault,
during the pandemic. The San Francisco-based group, which tracks
incidents of discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific
Islanders, also says more than 12% of its reported incidents involved
youths ages 17 and under.
Concerns about virus spread and rising racism are factors in the
in-person learning disparities, but many Asian families also benefit
from living in multi-generational households where grandparents and
other relatives can help out, said Peter Kiang, director of
Asian-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
"These ethnic-defined support systems have been operating for more
than a year already while parents are out working long hours, so there
is no urgency to return to in-person classrooms," he said.
Another factor is that many Asian Americans live in major urban areas
like Boston where schools are only now starting to widely re-open, said
Robert Teranishi, a professor of education and Asian-American studies at
UCLA. Meanwhile, San Francisco, where about a third of public school
students are of Asian descent, has no timetable for the return of middle
and high school students.
For Grace Hu, a 16-year-old in Sharon, Massachusetts, who has been
learning remotely all school year, the decision to go back to in-person
classes later this month was easy.
The high school sophomore helped organize a recent rally against
anti-Asian hate in Boston, but said she’s not concerned about facing
vitriol in school. The district, about 25 miles south of Boston, has a
sizeable Asian-American student population and she’s felt generally safe
"I’m feeling trapped at home," Hu said. "I just want to see my
Closer to Boston, in Quincy, a city with the highest concentration of
Asian Americans in the state, Kim Horrigan said she and her husband have
struggled with their decision to keep their 8-year-old son in remote
learning this school year, but for altogether different reasons.
Horrigan said she’s never really considered racism a threat to her
family, even though there’s been tension in Quincy over the years as the
Asian-American community has grown to roughly 25% of the population,
transforming a city famous for being the birthplace of two American
Instead, she’s most concerned about exposing her household, which
includes her Chinese immigrant parents who are in their 70s, and two
younger children, to COVID-19. At the same time, Horrigan worries about
her son falling behind the longer he’s home.
"We’ve taken so many precautions and sacrificed so much," she said.
"Why would we drop our guard now, with just a few weeks left?"
Meanwhile, in Needham, another Boston suburb, Denise Chan said she
hasn’t second-guessed placing her three young sons back in classes
full-time in recent weeks, even after the "slanted-eyes" incident.
Chan said another student approached her 11-year-old son at
lunchtime, made a comment about Korean eyes, and pulled his eyelids
upward in the mocking gesture as other students looked on.
She said her son called out the racist remark, and his teacher
eventually had the student apologize and promised racism would be
addressed in the class curriculum.
"If the teacher did not deal with it the way she did, I would be more
worried about sending him back," said Chan. "I was also proud of the way
my son handled it. We’ve talked about why it’s important to speak out."
But in Carrollton, Texas, Joy Lim said her parents decided to keep
her younger sister in remote learning after publicly raising concerns
about the racist test question.
The 21-year-old college student said the decision is in part because
of fear of reprisals if the sixth-grader returns to classes. The
district denounced the exam question as "derogatory and hurtful" and
placed three teachers on administrative leave.
"What’s been most discouraging is that people are still defending
these educators," Lim said. "These aren’t joking questions. They’re
Swan Lee, a Chinese-American mother in the Boston suburb of
Brookline, isn’t so sure keeping Asian-American students at home is the
answer to what ails the country.
Her two high school-age teens are preparing to return to classes
full-time later this month, and she’s emphasized the importance of being
strong and staying positive, though she admits she’s worried about what
might happen outside the relative safety of the school building.
"It’s not about protecting and shielding them. That’s too passive and
too defeatist," Lee said. "It’s about confronting this in a constructive
manner. People need to understand this kind of racism is wrong. That’s
the only way it goes away."
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