K-12 School Reopening Trends

December 14, 2020

Dennis Roche

Where We Are Now

Burbio School Opening Tracker- Map

  • % US K-12 students attending "virtual-only" schools = 48.3% (down from 50.8% last week)
  • % US K-12 students attending "traditional" In-person/every day" schools = 33.9%
  • % US K-12 students attending "hybrid" schools = 17.8%

The above percentages are set to Sunday December 13th. We set our numbers to the day of our reports due to changes that occur the day before announced plans. Our data is presented as "students attending schools that offer this learning plan" - most districts also offer virtual even when providing in person. For above, 48.3% of US K-12 students are currently attending schools that offer virtual-only plans, 33.9% offering traditional, etc.

Trends and Observations

  • To review, Burbio launched the audit on August 11th showing 52% "virtual only" and it shifted dramatically as the month went on and increased to 62% by Labor Day as large districts such as Hawaii, Dallas, small cities in the Northeast, Boston and parts of the Midwest and Sun Belt reversed previously announced in-person plans. Post-Labor Day, large Sun Belt cities such as Houston, Dallas and Miami returned in person, plus communities across the Northeast and the Midwest, and by early November less than 40% of US K-12 students were attending virtual-only schools. In the last three weeks, Covid-19 related closures of mid-size city districts such as Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Detroit, and Oklahoma City, widespread closures across states such as Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan and Minnesota, and the (now partial) closure of the NYC schools to in person drove the the virtual-only figure back up to 48.3%.
  • NYC began in-person learning for K-5 students and special needs students this week. Only a portion of eligible students chose in-person learning. As noted in earlier summaries, most K-12 districts across the US with in-person schooling offer the opportunity for parents to "opt out" of in-person learning and while not well reported, "opt-out" figures are much higher in urban areas.
  • Many school districts did reopen for in-person learning this week after taking a break post-Thanksgiving. In addition to those noted in last week's summary others include Geneva School District 304 just outside Chicago, plus Town of Highland, IN. in the Midwest, and Jenkintown, PA Separately, decisions were made to push virtual out further, most notably the entire state of Michigan's high school shut down order, plus districts such as North Olmstead, OHKingston, NY and Hatboro, PA.
  • The recent change to CDC quarantine guidelines are being reflected locally. Kearney, NE changed quarantine rules to ten days; Tennessee adjusted its rules and we saw adoption reflected in local school districts. Across Florida - including Duval County, Bay County, and Lake County quarantine rules were changed to ten days. We also saw changes in New Hampshire. as well as Maricopa County, AZ, and Salt Lake, County, UT . This district in Cincinnati has chosen not to adjust their rules even as the state of Ohio has issued new guidance. Quarantining of staff is a widely cited reason for school districts shifting to "virtual-only" across the US, as we have noted, and reduction of time in quarantine could affect the frequency of those situations.
  • We noted closures extending to new pockets of the US. Birmingham, AL and Tuscaloosa, AL schools closed through the holiday due to rising Covid rates as did Sullivan County, TN We continue to see reports of smaller city districts who never got "open" for in-person pushing back their plans, including Worcester, MA which is now planning a phased introduction from late January through early March; Joliet, IL, now virtual until at least the end of February; Atlantic City, NJ schools, after barely three weeks in hybrid, retreated to virtual through at least mid-January.
  • Many large urban districts have never opened for in-person learning this academic year and the machinations around those situations will be widely watched over the next few weeks. Boston has announced they are bringing a small group of students into classrooms this week after having done it earlier this Fall for a short period. San Francisco put a date of January 25th on the first students returning to the classrooms; California's myriad of regulations has made it one of the most "virtual" states in the US. Chicago's teacher unions filed a lawsuit over the city's planned January introduction of in-person learning. Seattle is remaining virtual until at least January 28th, and Portland until at least February 2nd.
    To review, school districts that are currently virtual only talk about the future in different ways; among them. 1) "We plan on introducing in person on XX date" 2) "We are virtual until" - as in "We are virtual until XX date" which generally means the district will revisit the dates a few weeks prior; 3) "We are going to revisit our learning plan" on XX date which would typically be 3-6 weeks before in-person learning would begin. Burbio tracks all these dates down to the district level and as you might imagine the stated plans need to be balanced with assessments that are unique to each jurisdiction. Districts that have never gotten students in the classroom by definition face more headwinds than jurisdictions that have gone virtual due to Covid 19 induced shutdowns. As noted above, the large "never been in-person" urban districts are generally projecting dates to return at least younger students in the late January/February time frame but it's impossible to make a firm prediction.
  • In our first sighting of an announced 2021-22 plan Evansville Vanderburgh School District, Indiana's third largest, plans on starting next academic year in a hybrid format - for just one week - before bringing all students into the classrooms.
  • One of many elements of the current K-12 situation is the role of public health officials in advising schools to close to in-person learning. Local news reports out of San Antonio indicate school officials pressing ahead with in-person learning despite County health department officials recommendation to end in-person instruction. "The department," the story notes, "does not have the power to enforce (their) recommendation."
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Burbio data was featured in this November 20th overview of school closures in USA Today plus a recent segment on CNBC. Burbio data has been cited in CNBC stories about racial inequality in education and the impact of virtual learning on retail sales Axios led with the data in a piece on virtual learning glitches; Bloomberg in multiple stories as well as NPR Marketplace. Burbio has also been cited by JohnsHopkins Center for Health Security in a recent newsletter,The Information in a piece about Ed Tech as well as CNBC in a piece about working parents and virtual education. an NBC News piece about physical stress of remote learning on children and the USC Center for Health Journalism. NPR highlighted our data in a piece summarizing Fall school openings. and Axios featured Burbio in a piece about the instability of school openings. CNBC featured Burbio data in a piece about how disruption in K-12 education is affecting women in the workforce. CBS featured Burbio data in an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci and Politico has featured Burbio data in a variety of pieces on national K-12 trends. Burbio data has been a resource for numerous government organizations, academic researchers, trade associations, think tanks and non-profits.

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