K-12 School Reopening Trends

December 13, 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.

School closures have slowed down since the November period, outside of a major spike in Michigan related to the shooting at Oxford High School which we detail below.  Districts' efforts to address staffing shortages across full-time teaching, substitutes, and various specialty positions continue to involve both short and long term incentive payments.   Mask-optional districts continue a gradual increase while the number of districts requiring vaccine requirements for staff have reached a plateau.  More below.  

Burbio announced a new update on ESSER III spending tracking this week.  Our research now details 1,700 districts covering $47 billion in allocated spending.

Burbio School Opening Tracker-- With School Disruption Map Added

Burbio's School Mask Policy Tracker

Trends and Observations

  •  School closures continued to plateau at a lower level this week and, while still higher than October, are well below November.   Going forward we will be focusing on our closures-by-week metric as that is a better indicator of school disruptions.  It's worth noting that closures often occur at the last moment, and we occasionally catch closures retroactively.  While closures continue at a slightly higher level than October, we are not seeing a spike comparable to November between now and the Christmas break:
  • Burbio tracked over 600 schools in Michigan that closed for at least one day in response to the Oxford High School shooting.  These closures are not counted in the closure data above as they are not specifically related to Covid 19 or ongoing issues related to staffing or school operations.   Many were related to copycat threats flooding local officials.  Some examples of announcements: 

  • Fenton, MI schools closed Friday, December 3rd:   "This decision is based not only on the anxiety and fear felt among our families, but it is also due to the fact that our staff was overwhelmed with the number of phone calls, emails, and students being signed out during the school day," writes the Superintendent. 
  • Holly Area Schools closed December 2nd and 3rd.   The announcement cites an "overwhelming outpouring of concern" while also describing multiple social media threats.   "We respectfully ask our students and community to stop sharing the threats on social media platforms. Doing this actually causes duplicative reports that tie up scarce resources and distract from the investigation," notes the letter. 
  • Grosse Point Public Schools also cites social media threats in their announcement of a December 3rd closure. 
  • North Branch, MI schools did not receive any specific threat but closed so staff could participate in an extensive review of safety procedures and protocols.
  • Richmond Community Schools released their high school students at 10 am December 2nd due to an external threat.  This letter describes the logistical exercise involved and the decision to keep other schools open. 
  •  In operational trends from around the US:

  • Mask-optional districts in the Top 500 increased from 177 to 181 and in the Top 200 from 83 to 84.  In Missouri the state Attorney General ordered school districts to stop enforcing mask mandates due to a recent court decision involving the authority of local health departments. That interpretation is being disputed in certain quarters and schools in Kansas City and Springfield are keeping mask mandates in place. 
  • Teacher vaccination requirements have stayed constant with 187 of the Top 500 districts requiring them, the same figure as late October. 
  • Los Angeles Unified School District announced plans  to discuss at this Monday's Board of Education meeting "delaying the transfer of non-compliant (unvaccinated) students 12 and older to the online independent study program until the beginning of the Fall 2022 semester."    According to the release 86.52% of eligible students have been vaccinated. 
  • Houston ISD, TX announced an initiative to hire 500 'college readiness mentors' for a newly created Student Teacher Corps. 
  • In Winston Salem, NC the board approved a $1.4MM plan to start a pilot program to put 20 mentors in schools that have had issues with student behavior. 
  • We have seen several districts mention supply issues affecting school menu items.  Reading School District reports issues around delivery drivers and supply.  "At present, we have one supplier. . . Please remember that students always have the option to pack a lunch of their choice to bring to school."    
  • In an interesting approach to staffing shortages, the Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent filled in as a substitute teacher at a district middle school for the week.
  • Due to bus driver shortages Plainfield School District 202, IL is offering $1,000 reimbursement to parents of special education students who transport their child to school.
  • Jefferson County, WV schools were half-day on Fridays due to staffing issues but have resumed full day teaching that day of the week as their fill rates have increased. 
  • Last week we reported Aiken County, SC considering a modified school calendar that would be more year-round.   This week, nearby Edgefield County, SC voted to approve a modified calendar, which, among other changes, results in the district starting school two weeks earlier next Fall.   Based on the amount of extended day and summer school learning we are seeing in ESSER III spending plans we will be watching calendar issues closely in the coming months. 
  • We see repeated references to both student behavior and social media threats from districts across the country.  Examples from multiple states include: 

  • In this short video out of Lexington, SC the Superintendent reports "We've had several instances of students threatening violence against schools in the last few days and to add to that we've dealt with some other instances of students bringing guns and knives to our schools before the Michigan shooting took place."
  • This note from Manchester, CT refers to three separate fights at a middle school. "The students involved in these fights are facing consequences that include lengthy suspensions from school," says the note.
  • In this Superintendent's message out of Medford, MA  reports "This week at Medford High School two specific instances of students fighting resulted in very understandable and mostly constructive outcry from students who want to see change. . . "
  • In this message out of Monongalia, WV the Superintendent reports that "due to an unsubstantiated copycat message left at Morgantown High School last week, a modified learning environment is now in place in the school. This means there is strict protocol pertaining to student and staff movement throughout the buildings during the school day.    . .  Students or staff caught making such threats will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law. .  .  As you may know, the parents in the Michigan tragedy are being charged for the crime as well as the student." 
  • Las Cruces, NM public schools reports " A recent series of online threats towards Las Cruces Public Schools are not credible . . .  parents understandably want to protect their children by keeping them home, which is an interruption in the educational process . . . . We urge families to trust our law enforcement partners to determine when a credible threat is made."
  • In this note from Hamilton City, OH schools about a social media threat that was investigated and found not to be credible the District writes, "Out of an abundance of caution the district will continue with additional security measures. .  . "
  • Reynolds Middle School, OR resumed in-person classes last week after taking a three week break due to fights and student misbehavior.
  • A major story of this period is ongoing efforts to address staffing issues and the recalibration of compensation and incentives going on.   Here are some of this week's examples from around the US. 

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