Photo History: From Campus Lockdowns to Zoom Classes and Learning Pods, Scenes From 24 Surreal Months of School Amid COVID

By Meghan Gallagher | March 15, 2022

Two years ago, teachers and millions of students across the country left their classrooms Friday afternoon unaware their schools would not reopen until the following school year. 

By the following Monday (March 16, 2020), the pandemic had turned education upside down. Garages became classrooms. The National Guard became bus drivers. And once classrooms reopened, lessons and learning had to balance against an array of new safety protocols. Soon, a new normal emerged. Between two years of masking protests, COVID testing and rolling quarantines, students across the country have learned, lived and graduated in the most surreal circumstances.

What’s happened over the past 24 months is a dizzying sequence of events, with photographers capturing America’s teachers, students and schools adjusting to life during a pandemic. 

To commemorate the anniversary of the shutdown, our photographic timeline below looks at what happened in the months that followed: The empty hallways and student isolation, the teacher who cared for her student’s newborn brother after the family contracted COVID while teaching remotely in 2020. It also brings us to the present day: Students are back on campus, deciding whether to strip off their masks, and catching up after months of disrupted learning.

Photographers also captured the capricious nature of the pandemic — and people. One month students were back in class, the next they returned to remote learning. On one side of the country students are maskless, cheering on their football team, while students in other states are protesting for safer COVID practices in schools. 

Below you’ll find a kaleidoscope of striking photos, outlining two unbelievable pandemic years, month by unpredictable month. 

March 2020

March 20: Schools in Orlando, Florida, closed earlier in the month, but there was hope for a quick return. (Getty Images)

April 2020

April 15: A student receives his laptop computer for remote learning in front of Bell High School in Bell, California. (Getty Images)

May 2020

May 1: Stamford, Connecticut elementary school teacher Luciana Lira teaches remotely from her home while caring for a student’s one-month-old brother after his family contracted the virus. (Getty Images)

June 2020

June 13: Kenneth High School seniors and family ride a ski lift to the summit of Cranmore Mountain in North Conway, New Hampshire, for graduation. (Getty Images)

July 2020

July 28: With in-person classes set to resume, a protester in Bloomington Indiana objected as the area experienced a dramatic increase in coronavirus infections. (Getty Images)

August 2020

Aug. 27: Seventh graders in a learning pod follow an online class in a home garage in Calabasas, California. (Getty Images)

September 2020

Sept. 11: Children are spaced apart in a room used for lunch at Woodland Elementary School in Milford, Massachusetts. (Getty Images)

October 2020

Oct. 15, 2020: In Reading, Pennsylvania, special education teacher Leslie Esterly makes a home visit and works with a student outside the boy’s residence. (Getty Images)

November 2020

Nov. 12, 2020: Karen Carter teaches 4&5 year olds at Bushnell Way elementary school in Calabasas, California, from her dining-room-turned-kindergarten. (Getty Images)

December 2020

Dec. 5, 2020: Camden High School students — some maskless — cheer on their team in Columbia, South Carolina. (Getty Images)

January 2021

Jan. 29, 2020: Encino, California, teacher Lily Gottlieb waits on a standby line hoping to receive a leftover COVID-19 vaccine doses that would otherwise expire and be tossed out. (Getty Images)

February 2021

Feb. 26, 2020: Culver City High School starting quarterback Zevi Eckhausruns drills with the receivers during their first official football practice in Culver City, California, after an 11-month school shutdown. (Getty Images)

March 2021

March 1, 2021: Rene Urey, a Los Angeles school district special education assistant gets the COVID-19 vaccine aboard a school bus. (Getty Images)

April 2021

April 13, 2021: Kindergarten student Matteo Rodriguez gets tested for COVID at Heliotrope Avenue Elementary School on in Maywood, CA. It was the first week many students had been in-person in over a year. (Al Seib / Getty Images)

May 2021

May 2, 2021: Parent Coordinator Christina Pun puts up ribbons with messages of peace, love and hope in front of Yung Wing School P.S. 124 in New York City. May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage month and awareness has spiked due to incidents of Asian racism and other acts of hatred in the age of COVID-19. Schools across the Lower East Side held rallies in response to the violence against the AAPI community. (Michael Loccisano / Getty Images)

June 2021

June 6, 2021: When his father lost his job last year, Togi, then 16, did not hesitate to look for a job to help his family, despite the fear of COVID-19. The pandemic precipitated many high school students into the world of work, at the risk of jeopardizing their future. At best, these teenagers juggle school and odd jobs mainly in fast food restaurants, clinging to the idea of a better future. (Eric Baradat / Getty Images)

July 2021

Eddie Ng, a custodian at Yung Wing School in New York City, who took in all the pet fish and fish tanks during quarantine, continues to look after them. (Michael Loccisano / Getty Images)

August 2021

Aug. 16, 2021: A fifth grader gives himself a rapid COVID-19 test on the first day of school at Los Angeles Unified School District at Montara Avenue Elementary School (Allen J. Schaben / Getty Images)

September 2021

September 15: National Guard members in Reading, Massachusetts, drive school buses amid school staffing shortages due to COVID-19. (David L. Ryan / Getty Images)

October 2021

Oct. 6: A teacher at Bielefield Elementary School in Middletown, CT, keeps the line moving as she checks the temperatures of students as they arrive for the day. (Stan Godlewski / Getty Images)

November 2021

Nov. 12, 2021: A kindergarten student getting vaccinated at Michele Clark High School Chicago, Illinois. The city of Chicago closed all public schools for a “vaccination awareness day” with the hope of getting as many students as possible vaccinated against COVID-19. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)

December 2021

Dec. 14, 2021: Los Angeles Parents opposed to LAUSD’s student vaccine mandate rally outside the district office during a school board meeting. (Sarah Reingewirtz / Getty Images)

January 2022

Jan. 25, 2022: Benjamin Banneker Academic High School students in Washington, D.C., walked out of school, advocating for safer COVID-19 precautions in schools. (Stefani Reynolds / Getty Images)

February 2022

Feb. 16, 2022: Band members play through their masks at Maywood Center For Enriched Studies (MaCES) Magnet school in Maywood, CA. Superintendent Carvalho conducted a two-day school tour, visiting special programs and classrooms at sites across the District. (Gary Coronado / Getty Images)

March 2022

March 1, 2022: Students move across the Heritage High School campus between class periods in Brentwood, Calif. The Liberty Union High School District no longer requires students to wear masks indoors. (Aric Crabb / Getty Images)



2021 Flashback: 52 weeks of disrupted learning, as captured in 52 iconic photos:

Get stories like these delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for The 74 Newsletter

Republish This Article

We want our stories to be shared as widely as possible — for free.

Please view The 74's republishing terms.

On The 74 Today