This Week in COVID & Education Policy: 16 Key Updates on Schools, Students and the Science Behind the Pandemic

This is The 74’s weekly briefing on schools, public health and the pandemic vetted, as always, by John Bailey. Get this weekly roundup, as well as rolling daily updates, delivered straight to your inbox — sign up for The 74 Newsletter.

Burbio School Tracker: See the national map. Percentage of K-12 students attending:

    • Virtual-only schools = 31.1% (from 33.6% last week)
    • Traditional in-person/every day schools = 42.6%
    • Hybrid schools = 26.3%

Burbio has launched a CDC School Opening Zone Tracker that as of February 20th shows 76% of the country in the red zone. (NBC also launched a map)

The Big Three

CDC Study — Teachers ‘Central’ to COVID Transmission in Georgia Schools: New CDC study that investigated COVID-19 spread within eight Georgia public elementary schools in the same school district between Dec. 1 and Jan. 22 (includes 24 in-person learning days) when the average number of cases per 100,000 residents in the county increased nearly 300%. The 74’s Linda Jacobson offered a detailed overview of the findings; some of the key takeaways:

    • There were 9 transmission clusters in elementary schools including one cluster where 16 teachers, students and relatives of students at home were infected.
    • In only one of the 9 clusters was a student clearly the first documented case, while a teacher was the first documented case in four clusters.
    • Of the nine clusters, eight involved probable teacher-to-student transmission. Two clusters saw teachers infect each other during in-person meetings or lunches, with a teacher then infecting other students.
    • “Although plastic dividers were placed on desks between students, students sat <3 ft apart. Physical distancing of >6 ft was not possible because of the high number of in-person students and classroom layouts.”
    • “In seven clusters, transmission among educators and students might have occurred during small group instruction sessions in which educators worked in close proximity to students.”
    • “The school district mandated in-classroom mask use except while eating, and both reported and observed compliance during site visits was high. However, information obtained during interviews indicated that specific instances involving lack of or inadequate mask use by students likely contributed to spread in five clusters.”
    • “Educators played an important role in the spread of COVID-19 in the schools. COVID-19 spread often occurred during in-person meetings or lunches and then subsequently spread in classrooms,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters at a briefing. “The two main reasons for the spread of COVID-19 in these schools were inadequate physical distancing and mask adherence in the schools.”
Teachers’ pandemic-related reasons for leaving the profession varied by age. (RAND Corp.)

RAND Report: Stress Topped the Reasons Why Public School Teachers Quit, Even Before COVID-19

    • At least for some teachers, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have exacerbated what were high stress levels pre-pandemic by forcing teachers to, among other things, work more hours and navigate an unfamiliar remote environment, often with frequent technical problems.
    • Many early leavers could be lured back to public school teaching. Over half of the teachers who voluntarily left the profession early primarily because of the pandemic indicated that they would be somewhat or definitely willing to return to public school teaching once most staff and students are vaccinated. Slightly fewer of those would return if there was only regular testing of staff and students for COVID-19.
    • Nearly 25% of teachers under the age of 40 who left did so because of childcare responsibilities.
    • One in four pandemic teachers said that they did not have reliable high-speed internet access at home and a little more than one in ten said that they did not have an up-to-date computer.

Child Care in Crisis: New report from Third Way.

    • Lack of child care is now the third-most cited reason for not working, behind layoffs and furloughs.
    • In 35 states, lack of child care has driven 1.2 million people from the workplace, a 36% increase on average from late April.

City & State News

New Jersey: The Governor announced the The Road Forward to “Engage, Recover, and Reimagine Education in New Jersey” which includes two grant opportunities totaling $105 million:

    • $75 million Learning Acceleration Grant: 75% of a district’s allocation will be used to support research-based academic enrichment activities, such as one-on-one intensive tutoring and summer learning academies, and 25% will be used for strategies to support the broader learning ecosystem.
    • $30 million Mental Health Grant: Funds will be used to assist districts in implementing school-based mental health supports for all students and educators. These grants will assist school districts in building a tiered, sustainable intervention model of comprehensive mental health supports and services.

Illinois: CPS, Teachers Union to begin talks on high school reopening plan

Washington: $714 million will be allocated to schools, but only those that offer plans to bring students back on campus in some capacity. “Open, get the money. Don’t open, you don’t really need the money in this environment,” state Superintendent Chris Reykdal said.

New York: The Times Union tracked six months worth of data in the Capital Region showing that school districts have largely been effective at keeping coronavirus out of the schools using strategies like social distancing and mask-wearing.

California: “A Bay Area school district plans to reopen for one hour a week. It isn’t going over well.”

COVID-19 Research

Vaccine Hesitancy:


School Closures Have Failed America’s Children: Via Nicholas Kristof

    • “Millions of American schoolchildren will soon have missed a year of in-person instruction, and we may have inflicted permanent damage on some of them, and on our country.”

Unvaccinated Teachers Like Me Have Reason to Worry About Reopening Schools: USA Today opinion piece

    • “Many of the upgrades schools need for a safe return would represent reasonable long-term investment in educating our children, and yet here we are in Year 2 of a global pandemic, still debating waiting.”

West Coast States’ Failure to Reopen Schools Is a Disaster: Via The Nation

    • “In 2051, I suspect, West Coast politicians who grew up during this pandemic era will still be struggling with the generational legacy of shuttered schools and with the abysmal failure—by politicians, union leaders, and school district administrators, most of whom claim to be progressive and to empathize with the downtrodden—to get them up and running again in a timely manner.”

Closing Schools is Not Evidence Based and Harms Children: Editorial in the BMJ

    • “Many pupils may never be able to catch up on lost time in school, and vulnerable teenagers are falling through gaps in the school and social care systems. There is no substitute for face-to-face learning. In the absence of strong evidence for benefits of school closures, the precautionary principle would be to keep schools open to prevent catastrophic harms to children.”

Federal Policy

Education Department: Is seeking input as it considers additional guidance on a range of topics. Suggestions/comments can be submitted to ReopeningK12@ed.gov by March 15, 2021, on any of the following topics:

    • Providing research-based and practitioner informed strategies related to meeting the social, emotional mental health, and academic needs of students;
    • Supporting educator and school staff well-being;
    • Addressing lost instructional time;
    • Stabilizing a diverse and qualified educator workforce;
    • Ensuring equitable access to broadband and internet devices;
    • Providing school nutrition;
    • Providing all students with access to a safe and inclusive learning environment;
    • Extending learning time;
    • Addressing resource inequities; and
    • Using data to inform students, parents, and educators of progress.

Emergency Broadband Benefit: Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel circulated a report and order for the Emergency Broadband Benefit.

Eligibility includes households where a member:

    • Qualifies for the FCC’s Lifeline program;
    • Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program;
    • Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020;
    • Received a Federal Pell Grant; or
    • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating providers’ existing low-income or COVID-19 program.


  • A $50/month discount for eligible broadband;
  • A $75/month discount for eligible broadband on Tribal lands; and
  • A one-time $100 reimbursement for laptops, tablets and computers purchased through a qualified provider.

The FCC is also recruiting outreach partners here. Next step: Commissioners consider the program structure and rules and then vote. Once that is complete, the law requires the FCC to review requests from interested providers who want to participate in the program, and they will also continue to develop the system to administer the program.

…And on a Lighter Note

Dare Mighty Things:

ICYMI @The74

Weekend Reads: In case you missed them, our top four stories of the week:

    • Learning Loss: One year into pandemic, tests show far fewer young students on target to learn how to read (Read more)
    • Remote Learning Techniques: Study shows kids give up on tasks easier if parents step in to help (Read more)
    • State Priorities: The key education priorities from 41 “State of the State” addresses — pandemic relief, teacher pay, school choice and more (Read more)
    • A High Schooler’s Perspective: What my search for a good Wi-Fi signal taught me about learning — and the value of listening to my neighbors (Read more)

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