K-12 School Reopening Trends

January 18, 2021

Dennis Roche

Where We Are Now

Burbio School Opening Tracker- Map

  • % US K-12 students attending "virtual-only" schools = 49.6% (from 55% last week)
  • % US K-12 students attending "traditional" In-person/every day" schools = 32.6%
  • % US K-12 students attending "hybrid" schools = 17.8%

    The above percentages are set to Sunday, January 17th. 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, 49.6% of US K-12 students are currently attending schools that offer virtual-only plans, 32.6% offering traditional, etc.

Trends and Observations

  • During the Fall the number of US K-12 students attending virtual only schools started at a high of 62% at Labor Day, falling gradually to a low of around 37% by early November . Rising Covid rates and precautionary holiday related breaks concentrated in the Midwest and Northeast took that number back up to 55% as of last week. In the past week the "virtual" number fell to 49.6%, its first drop since before Thanksgiving.
  • We counted schools in 26 states returning from virtual-only to in-person options, generally in small to mid-size districts concentrated in the Midwest and Northeast. Examples include Bethalto, IL schools, Lake Central, IN schools and Franklin City, OH schools. Other examples include Salem, MAMobile, AL, plus districts in states that had shifted heavily virtual around the holidays such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, Delaware, Rhode Island, Kentucky and Michigan.
  • We did see some in-person reversals and delays. Topeka, KS schools are going virtual for two weeks starting this week. Gwinnett County, GA will be going virtual next week. Evanston, IL delayed their (first time) return past January 19th. Alamance County, NC pushed their planned (first time) in-person return from February 1st to at least March 1st and Cumberland County, NC, which has also never been in-person, pushed their start date back to at least 3/15. The Austin, TX school district is "asking" parents to keep their students home to learn virtually while keeping schools open for special situations amid Covid-19 rates among school-age children that are above the rest of the community.
  • This coming week another batch of school districts, some of which are larger, plan to return from slightly longer post-Holiday precautionary breaks and the virtual-only figure should drop further. In two examples, Indianapolis, IN plans to return K-3 students this week and grades 4-12 the week after while Colorado Springs, CO will return elementary (traditional) and grades 6-12 (hybrid) this week.
  • In larger city news, in addition to Chicago, where preschoolers and special needs students returned this week, Atlanta is planning to return K-2 students beginning the week of 1/25. Columbus OH schools are planning to begin to bring students into the classroom on February 1st. Boston announced plans to phase in all students from March 1st-April 1st. In this news report, the Philadelphia Schools Superintendent states an intention to begin getting younger students in the classroom in February. Cleveland pushed virtual learning until at least February 26th, and Pittsburgh pushed plans to return students to the classroom until at least February 8th. Tulsa, OK pushed in-person return to March 22nd.
  • We noted last week the trend of smaller cities struggling to get students in the classroom, many of which have target dates far beyond large cities. Pawtucket, RI schools will remain virtual for the balance of the year despite pressure from the state to return. "They are the only district in the state that has not come back, so there is really no other reason than they are making that decision," said the State Superintendent in this local news report. In Allentown, PA schools will remain virtual through at least April 14th. NJ has several examples of these situations. Jersey City, NJ will remain remote through at least April 21st, Trenton is virtual until at least May 3rd. and New Brunswick, NJ is virtual until at least April 12th.
  • Last week we reported that Des Moines, IA schools were denied a waiver to stay virtual and returned in person. This week in Kanawha County, West Virginia (Charleston) the school board voted to stay remote until February 8th, but had to reverse hours later when the State Board of Education voted that full K-12 remote learning is no longer an option. In Rutherford County, TN the Director of Schools recommended a January 11th start to "hybrid" in-person to the County Board of Education. However, "no board member made a proposal in favor of the proposal and so the proposal was not adopted" and students returned fully in-person this past week.
  • In Ohio Governor Mike Dewine is offering priority vaccination to teachers on the condition they return to in-person learning by March 1st.
  • In policy notes that might affect learning plans in 2021, districts in St Louis County, MO and this one in Annoka Hennepin, MN announced plans to continue offering virtual only teaching as option for parents for the entire 2021-22 year. Separately, in this announcement out of Henrico County, VA pushing in-person schooling back the district notes "In order to make up for lost learning time and to close achievement gaps, HCPS is in the early stages of planning robust, optional in-person summer academic programming. Expect to hear more about this in the weeks to come." In auditing districts nationwide we continue to be struck by the widespread acknowledgement of learning loss among large segments of the student population. Given the additional Federal funding initiatives underway, it would seem that this coming summer could be a practical time to begin addressing this issue.  
     
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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. about a rise in school closures. 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 The Information in a piece about Ed Tech, as well as CNBC in a piece about working parents and virtual education plus an NBC News piece about physical stress of remote learning on children and the USC Center for Health Journalism. The Baltimore Sun featured Burbio in a data on Maryland school openings and the New York Times in an op-ed about virtual learning and engagement. NPR highlighted Burbio 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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