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The Week in School Reopenings: Nearly 9 in 10 Youth Have Access to In-Person Learning, But Some Big City Districts Are Only Now Returning Students to Classrooms

By Asher Lehrer-Small | April 12, 2021

Nearly 9 in 10 students now have access to at least some classroom learning, either through traditional or hybrid models, according to a recent update.

Until recently, however, some prominent city school districts like Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle had never opened their doors. Now they’re bringing back kids, and all eyes are on these school systems as students return to classrooms after more than a year learning from home.

But with the school year mere weeks away from coming to a close for millions of students, and with select districts putting in-person learning on pause amid spread of a more infectious strain of COVID-19, many observers look to the summer in hopes of supporting young people’s continued learning.

Here’s what you need to know about the state of play on school reopenings across the nation, powered by data from the school calendar tracking website Burbio.

1 The push toward full, in-person learning continues

Overall, just shy of 60 percent of students across the country are now attending schools that offer full, in-person learning, up from 55 percent of students last week. Every age level saw declines in remote and hybrid learning in favor of traditional models.

Adding in-person learning models together with hybrid, 88 percent of students nationwide have access to some classroom learning.

Nearly 9 in 10 students have access to at least some in-person learning. (Burbio)

2 Big city school districts just now opening their doors

Even amid a months-long countrywide trend toward reopening schools, some major urban districts have remained a key exception, sticking with virtual-only models.

Now, many are beginning to open their doors.

In California, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco are each returning elementary students to hybrid classrooms within the next two weeks. Also on the West Coast, Seattle and Portland now have elementary students learning part time in the classroom and plan to return middle and high school students. Newark, New Jersey returns students to classrooms this week for hybrid learning, and Milwaukee opens its doors to younger students the week after.

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3 State lawmakers leading reopening push

Many states have begun to enact school reopening mandates, influencing a push toward in-person learning. As reopening laws took effect in New Mexico, the state went from one of the country’s most virtual to one of its most in-person. Massachusetts also saw jumps in classroom learning for youngsters as in-person requirements for elementary schoolers kicked in.

That trend could continue in North Carolina and New Hampshire, where mandates are set to take effect next week and the week following, respectively. West Coast states like Washington, Oregon, and California also have requirements for the return to classrooms this week and next, though they stipulate hybrid models rather than full in-person learning.

Conversely, in Michigan where rates of COVID-19 are on the rise, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has urged high schools to put a two-week pause on all in-person learning and youth sports.

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4 Over half of high schoolers have the option to learn in-person

Across the country, as schools have embarked on the task of bringing students back to classrooms, high schoolers have tended to be the last in line. This week marks something of a milestone, then, as the share of high school students attending schools offering in-person learning five days a week for the first time this year edged above 50 percent.

5 Nearly half of students done with school by Memorial Day

By Memorial Day, almost half of K-12 students will be on summer vacation, and fully 75 percent will be done by June 12.

Nearly half of U.S. students will be on summer vacation by Memorial Day. (Burbio)

With summer break mere weeks away for millions of students, and with many school districts flush with cash from the federal government, some of it earmarked for addressing learning loss, many observers are looking to summer school as the best chance to support young people’s continued learning.

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The logistics of in-person learning next fall remain a key unknown. If and when 80 percent of students select in-person classroom instruction, the CDC’s current 3 foot social distancing guidance could pose an obstacle, as it appears to have created issues in some districts around lunchtime, busing and classroom spacing.

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