Dive Brief:

  • Data collected by the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) suggests, as of the end of July, 40% of school districts that have announced reopening plans favor full in-person instruction this fall, and 51% of school districts with announced plans will provide in-person learning at least partially through a hybrid model.
  • Rural districts are much more likely than their urban counterparts to have announced a return to the classroom. However, a smaller portion of rural districts have announced their reopening plans.
  • The data, collected from a sample of 477 districts nationwide, also shows one-third of school districts overall still haven’t made their fall plans public.

Dive Insight:

As fall nears, many large urban districts have backtracked on their plans to return to brick-and-mortar buildings, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, Chicago Public Schools and Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. New York City’s public school system, however, is pushing forward with in-person instruction and rolled out plans last Friday to quarantine individual schools for up to two weeks if there is a positive COVID-19 case on-site.

While New York City officials considered the standards which include opening schools only if the city’s infection rate is less than 3% the decision was immediately met with pushback from the city’s teacher union for falling short of members’ expectations.

On Wednesday, the United Federation of Teachers said New York City’s plan “does not meet safety standards.” Both the organization and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have expressed concerns that while the plan is to routinely test teachers, other school-based staff and school community members, the capacity for such testing may be lacking.

The prior week, UFT’s parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers, floated the possibility of teacher strikes or lawsuits in the event districts push to reopen buildings without sufficient health and safety precautions in place. The Florida Education Association, a state-level branch of the National Education Association, also recently filed a lawsuit alongside educators and parents against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the state’s department of education and its board of education on the grounds that reopenings are unsafe in current conditions.

The debate around reopening has divided the nation’s school administrators, teachers, parents and politicians. “This has created polarization in communities that are typically pretty united,” said Kevin Brown, executive director of the Texas Association of School Administrators, adding that national divisions typically do not filter down to local communities.

This time, however, mounting pressure from the White House to reopen, pushes from health experts to send students back to classrooms safely, and conditional funding mechanisms tied to reopening in some states like Texas, Arizona and Indiana have pushed districts to make tough decisions at the risk of upsetting teachers and parents.

Meanwhile, rural schools, as the recent data suggests, remain largely unaffected by these reopening debates. This trend aligns with low virus spread in those communities as well as the possibility that rural facilities have the capacity to support social distancing recommendations.

However, Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, told Education Dive that the longer Congress takes to agree on a federal stimulus package, the more difficult it will be for districts to reopen in person.

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