In-person reopenings planned for half of American school districts

An analysis of reopening plans from a nationally representative sample of 477 school districts found that nearly half are returning to full in-person instruction, with that model being far more likely in rural communities compared to suburban and urban ones.
By: | August 27, 2020
Photo by Denisse Leon on UnsplashPhoto by Denisse Leon on Unsplash

The full in-person instruction model appears to be, by far, the most common one being adopted by school districts this fall. Researchers at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a non-partisan research center, collected information from a nationally representative sample of 477 school districts between August 17 and 21, at which point most plans were considered finalized and many schools were already in session.

Almost half (49%) are opening fully, while 26% are starting fully remote and 12% are using a hybrid model. Regardless of which approach they choose, 85% of districts are offering families the option of fully remote instruction. Some districts studied had not yet announced plans.

The analysis revealed major divides by geography and student demographics.

Rural communities are most likely to be opening fully in-person. While 65% of rural districts are moving forward with that plan, only 24% of suburban and 9% of urban districts are doing the same. In fact, few urban districts are offering any in-person instruction to start the year. Nearly 4 in 5 are beginning fully remote.

In addition, high-poverty districts are more likely to start the year in remote learning. Students in these communities are also more likely to need more support socially, emotionally and academically; households in poverty may have less dedicated space for children to work as well.

Overall, few districts are mixing their models by prioritizing some students for access to in-person instruction. Only 8% are varying in-person time based on grade level (with younger students generally getting priority on in-person instruction). Less than 3 in 10 districts are prioritizing some students (e.g., students with disabilities, students requiring extra help, students who are falling behind) for some or additional in-person time in their reopening or contingency plans. For example, these districts might offer limited in-person instruction for some specific groups of students while all others are remote, or might provide full-time in-person instruction to some groups of students while most are in a hybrid model, or might provide extra instructional time for certain groups in an in-person model.

The report, Getting Back to School: An Update on Plans from Across the Country, poses this question to school districts: Will the instruction provided and the supports offered to students and families ensure that student learning continues—regardless of whether it’s delivered remotely, in-person or both?

Melissa Ezarik is senior managing editor of UB.