K-12 School Reopening Trends

November 15, 2021

For more detail on Burbio's dataset, please email dennis@burbio.com

Where We Are Now

This is Dennis from Burbio. Below is our weekly update. Feel free to share.

Closure numbers went up quite a bit this week as the trend of disruptions caused by staffing issues and "mental health" breaks accelerated.  This week we introduce a project  tracking the Federal Government's $122 billion  ESSER III spending program by district. 

Burbio School Opening Tracker-- With School Disruption Map Added

Burbio's School Mask Policy Tracker

Trends and Observations

  • The trend we highlighted last week of schools taking mental health days accelerated, as we have now tracked closures affecting 769 districts (up from 675 last week), the largest week-over-week increase in districts since September.  The number of schools affected cumulatively now total 7,001, up from 3,224 last week, meaning we identified 3,777 schools affected since our last report, more than all previous reports combined.

During the week of November 7th, there were disruptions involving 88 districts and involving 2,625 schools.  

The nature of the disruptions has shifted and are worth noting:

  • We started seeing mental health closures around November 1st.  These are distinct from disruptions caused by Covid-19 cases in school buildings, and from staffing issues that occur on very short notice generally as a result of Covid 19 cases.  To date, we have identified 65 mental-health closure events affecting 2,535 schools.
  • Closures related to cases of Covid-19 tend to be for individual schools within a district while mental-health closures are often for entire districts which drives the number of schools closed considerably higher. 
  • Mental health closures to date  are concentrated in certain states:  North Carolina (30 districts, 1,402 schools), Virginia (9 districts, 262 schools), Missouri (6,75), Colorado (2, 263), Ohio (4, 189), and Oregon (4,106) make up 55 of the 65 identified districts and 2,297 out of the 2,535 schools.
  • We are measuring districts that include at least one full day either closed or virtual as part of a scheduling change.  While we have noted "early release" days in some districts to relieve pressure we aren't calling them a disruption.
  • Average days closed are much lower for mental health breaks, generally one or two days wrapped around a holiday.   The average closure length for all  closures occurring the week of November 7th across the US was only 2.8 days.  See below for the most updated closure events by week, a chart we started keeping when closures tended to be individual schools.   A "closure event" is either an entire district closing all its schools (that would be one closure event) or an individual school closing within a district.   As noted above, the week of November 7th saw 88 districts closing involving 2,625 schools.   For the week of November 21st, we have already noted closure events involving 1,040 schools and expect that figure to increase further. 
  • Last Spring the Federal government authorized $122 billion in spending termed "ESSER III '' for "Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief,'' allocated on the basis of Title I. Ninety percent of the spending goes directly to local districts ("LEAs") who are subject to disclosure requirements and some required allocations for a portion of the spending.

The spending is an important roadmap for K-12 suppliers and education policy. Burbio has currently tabulated by category over $30 billion in planned spending for 1,000+ districts across over 40 states and 50 categories. The effort is ongoing as additional school district plans are disclosed; there are days we add as much as $1 billion of planned spending to our database.  We will continue this project indefinitely. 

We wanted to start by showcasing some of the largest spending categories by district, as well as the planned spend per category:

  • We wanted to capture a few representative links that capture what is happening at the grass roots level in districts in terms of staffing issues as well as mental wellness:

  • In Montgomery County, MD this local news outlet reports  teacher vacancies resulting in staff having to cover additional classes during planning periods and lunch breaks.   
  • In Illinois this news report about Heyworth School District discusses hiring full-time staff dedicated to covering teacher absences. 
  • Santa Fe, NM school board declared a "staffing crisis" citing among other things a lack of substitutes resulting in teachers having to cover additional classes. 
  • Ypsilanti, MI reports an "unprecedented level of fatigue" among staff due to shortages in describing their extended break Thanksgiving week. 
  • In Newton, MA the Superintendent writes "Educators are reporting higher levels of anxieties among students, more instances of behavioral issues, and uneven capacity to follow classroom routines." 
  • In North Carolina in Winston Salem November 12th's mental health day is called a "Day of Kindness, Community and Connection" with an assignment for students and staff to "take care of themselves."  In Craven County, NC the Superintendent declared November 12th "Craven Kindness Day" and requests "students and staff complete one act of kindness for someone else." 
  •  Colonial School District in Delaware announced their November 12th closure by writing, " In this year where we have struggled to get substitutes to cover classrooms, cafeterias and school buses, we are concerned that we will be unable to operate the district in a safe and effective way on this day." 
  • In other news from around the country:

  • Mask mandates continue to decline as now 331 of the largest 500 districts in the US mandate masks (from 341 last week) and 125 of the top 200 districts do so (from 129).    In Pennsylvania a judge threw out the state's mask mandate and the state appealed.    Governor Wolf had announced earlier in the week the mask mandate would be removed in January.   Delaware's Governor extended that states mask mandate to February 8th while saying he hoped it would expire at that time.   
  • Scottsdale, AZ will move to mask-optional in January, which provides time for the 5-11 vaccinations to occur.   Linn-Mar, IA schools will do the same, as will College County, IA.   We see linking the removal of mask mandates to the full availability of vaccines for 5-11 year olds to be an ongoing trend among both districts where there is flexibility as well as states where they are currently mandated. 

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