Gov. Phil Murphy has talked often recently about the "digital divide" brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and while students in urban communities continue to be at a remote learning disadvantage due to internet access issues, a new poll finds their parents are most concerned about keeping consistent lines of communication open with their children's teachers.

The survey commissioned by the New Jersey Children's Foundation, a Newark-based nonprofit, was supported by the education policy and advocacy group JerseyCAN, whose senior advisor Janellen Duffy said those asking the questions also expected technology to be top of mind.

But rather than that "digital divide," Duffy reported there was more of an overall "need gap" that emerged.

"While we thought we were going to see a lot as it related to devices or tech support, what rose to the very top of the list was parents saying that they want more contact with their (children's) teachers," she said.

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The poll was conducted with the 2020-21 school year in its early stages to gauge whether proper preparations had been made during the spring and summer months.

At least 95% of respondents said they wanted three things most of all: more live access between students and teachers, increased access of teachers to parents, and more frequent updates as to whether a child was performing up to grade level.

Only about a quarter of participants (26%) said their districts were providing grade-level progress reports at this time. Just 42% said the remote learning experience had been "very successful" for their families.

Duffy said that parents generally think schools, administrators, and government officials overseeing remote and hybrid programs are doing the best they can, but that even so, more can be done.

"We are optimistic that we can have further conversations with them about these supports and strategies to recoup some of the student learning loss that we know is happening across the state," she said. "We think that there are short-term solutions for right now as it relates to assisting families with internet access, affordability of internet access, providing more regular contact and live instruction from teachers."

Low-income parents and parents of color were disproportionately likely to say they needed additional support, Duffy said, whether that be in the form of internet access, access to food, or due to concerns about child care or their own job instability.

Compounding that, as the survey bore out, is that students in these communities were more likely to be learning fully remotely, rather than hybrid or in-person.

And in particular, Black parents were more concerned than others about the health of their children, with Black and Hispanic communities shown to be at higher risk for contracting COVID-19.

"They want to make sure that their kids are doing OK in terms of their social and emotional well-being and then, of course, parents also want to make sure that their kids' health is protected," Duffy said.

Looking forward, the Children's Foundation and JerseyCAN said they would like to appeal to lawmakers and school officials to provide any resources necessary for increased instruction time, such as an extended school year or summer tutoring, that might help to catch up any students who may be falling behind.

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