The outbreak of COVID-19 has devastated U.S. families and the public education system. Outside of the rising death toll and increasing health concerns, the pandemic brought dramatic changes in schooling which further exacerbated existing educational inequities. A crucial mechanism through which schools impact student and parent mental well-being is school racial climate. School racial climate is characterized by perceptions of how race and racial diversity operates within school norms, practices, and relationships. Pre-COVID research demonstrated an association between school racial climate and parent and child mental health outcomes yet what remains unknown is the effect of a moderating mechanism (i.e., COVID-19 stress) underlying this relationship. Additionally, there is a dearth of research that focuses on parents’ perceptions of school racial climate and its effects. To address these gaps, this cross-sectional study examined U.S. parents’ perceptions of COVID-19 stress as a moderating influence on the relationship between school racial climate and parent and child mental health outcomes.
Participants were recruited from Prolific’s online survey platform during May 2021 and included a nationally representative sample of 397 U.S. parents (52% female, average age 40, 74% White) with a child between the ages of 6 and 17, enrolled in a K-12 public school setting during the 2020-2021 academic year. Parents were recruited to complete an electronic survey (75 questions) administered via Question Pro. An informed consent was displayed on participants screen prior to beginning the survey and upon completion participants were compensated $12.50 per hour. Hierarchical regression analyses were conducted using Stata 16.1 software.
Results revealed an interaction effect between campus racial socialization and perceived COVID-19 stress (b = .106, p = .009), indicating a moderating effect of COVID-19 stress on the relationship between campus racial socialization and parent mental well-being. Parents who reported either low (bsimple = .299, p = .001), moderate (bsimple = .383, p = .004), or high (bsimple = .468, p = .007) levels of COVID-19 stress had improved mental health when racial socialization was high. This impact was greater for parents with high levels of COVID-19 stress than with low levels of COVID-19 stress. Parents’ perceptions of COVID-19 stress did not moderate the relationship between school racial climate and child behavioral/emotional problems.
Conclusion and Implications:
This research is distinct in its examination of parents’ perspectives of COVID-19 stress as a moderating influence on the relationship between school racial climate and mental health outcomes. Findings suggest that parents may experience greater relief in their child’s educational process as a result of their assessment that schools are affording the opportunity for students to learn about different cultures, traditions, and social issues affecting one’s culture and race. Research shows that schools that promote more equitable practices, emphasize the value of diversity, and support culturally-relevant, school-wide mental health efforts improve the health and well-being of the student body and improve family-school partnerships. Findings also point to the need for more validated measures to assess parent perceptions of school racial climate to help guide policy and reform efforts.