K-12 School Reopening Trends

September 20, 2021

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

Where We Are Now

This week we look at school closures (the up-to-date map can be found at the top of our School Opening Tracker page in addition to the visual below) and the distinct categories of quarantine rules across the US.

Burbio School Opening Tracker-- With School Disruption Map Added

Burbio's School Mask Policy Tracker

Trends and Observations

  • An update on school closure trends:

  • To date we have identified just over 2,000 in-person school closures (up from just under 1,700 last week) across 469 districts (from 386 ) in 39 states (from 38). Below is our current map:

Note:  Our school closure figures on the disruption map do not include closures related to Hurricane Ida, which affected Louisiana and New Jersey in particular. They reflect Covid 19 related closures only.  

  • Through last week, 55% of cumulative school closures had gone to virtual learning and 39% had closed entirely. Through this week those figures changed to 60% going virtual and 35% closing entirely. We took a deeper dive and found that of closures over the last two weeks, 74% had gone virtual, with most of the balance closing, representing a big shift.
  • On a similar note, the average school closure duration in the last two weeks was just under 6 days - versus a previous average of 8.
  • While closures are often district-wide, they are more often a subset of the schools in a district and we wanted to note that trends continue from last week. The chart below shows the percentage of closures by elementary, middle, and high schools being closed when schools are closed individually, compared to the percentage of those schools in the entire K-12 universe.
  • The timing of closures in relation to the first day of school remains similar to last week, with the bulk of closures still occurring between three and four weeks after a district opens.
  • Here is an overview of the closures we have picked up so far based on when the closure started. Note that 50% of US K-12 students started school the weeks of August 8th and August 15th, and the most recent spike in school closures occurred the week of August 29th, reflecting the timing of school closures noted in the chart above.
  • In observing quarantine policies in K-12 schools we have identified four broad categories:

  • Areas with mask mandates that follow the CDC guidelines for quarantining, which provide for quarantine exceptions for mask wearing. The ratio of 'quarantines-to-Covid 19 cases' in these instances are in the 2-1 range. States with in-school mask mandates generally fall into this category, although it's important to note that local districts in those types of states can vary from the CDC guidelines and not recognize the "mask exception" (final bullet below).
  • Areas that either ban mask mandates or allow local flexibility but have quarantine guidelines that don't factor mask wearing into calculations. Several states that have been active in attempting to ban mask mandates fall into this group.
  • States that allow local districts to be "mask optional" and follow CDC guidelines on quarantines. In these areas there will be dramatically different quarantine levels between "mask" and "no mask" districts, with districts that require masks being lower. We repeatedly see references to quarantines-to-cases ratios of 8 or 10 to one in districts in these states that are "mask optional" versus much lower ratios in districts with masks (more below).
  • Districts that require masks, but don't provide for mask exceptions as described by the CDC. In our September 6th blog we mentioned NYC schools as a prominent example. In these areas the quarantines-to-cases ratios will be similar to places that don't require masks and follow CDC guidelines on quarantines.

It is important to note that county and local health departments are often involved in managing quarantine policy, so the situation is often not uniform regardless of state level quarantine guidelines. Separately, there are also rapidly evolving approaches as relates to testing students who are in quarantine to allow them to return to school.text in this area

  •  Here are some examples how that is playing out nationally:

  • "Classroom closures" is a mitigation technique that involves having an entire classroom of students learn from home due to Covid 19 but keeping the school open. New York City, which opened on 9/13, has just over 1,800 public schools, of which there are a reported 700 elementary schools. NYC schools maintain this informative case map that tracks school closures and more targeted measures. As of this writing the page is updated through Friday September 17th and the city reports 444 classroom closures (up from 327 as of Thursday night) in elementary schools (including charters) and one school closure (their first, appearing on Friday), plus 345 "partial classroom closures" that apply to middle and high schools. Note that 812 cases (up from 560 on Thursday) are precipitating this level of activity.
  • This note from Harrison, Ohio, a district that moved from mask-optional to mask-required offers some numerical perspective: " . . . . .it didn’t take long for our quarantine numbers to drop significantly, after universal masking was put into place. On September 3, we had over 180 students quarantined at HJS and 17 positive cases, resulting in over 1,576 cumulative days of school missed by that group. As of today, September 15, 2021, we have 9 positive students and just 1 close contact (stemming from lunch time)." This note from Aurora City, OH further explains the issue: in their case, 20 Covid 19 cases resulted in 34 additional quarantines, versus 104 if there was no masking.
  • In mask-mandatory Meade County, KY at the 2:12 mark of this video the Superintendent describes a year so far with 211 Covid 19 cases (far above last year) and 550 student quarantines. The Superintendent then says without masks the district would have had to quarantine 2,493 students.
  • In other trends from around the US:

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