For the first time the number of Top 500 districts that are mask-optional exceeds the number that are mask-required, and we expect that trend to...
Week of 11/15: A New Dynamic
Closure numbers went up quite a bit this week as the trend of disruptions caused by staffing issues and "mental health" breaks accelerated. This week we introduce a project tracking the Federal Government's $122 billion ESSER III spending program by district.
- We started seeing mental health closures around November 1st. These are distinct from disruptions caused by Covid-19 cases in school buildings, and from staffing issues that occur on very short notice generally as a result of Covid 19 cases. To date, we have identified 65 mental-health closure events affecting 2,535 schools.
- Closures related to cases of Covid-19 tend to be for individual schools within a district while mental-health closures are often for entire districts which drives the number of schools closed considerably higher.
- Mental health closures to date are concentrated in certain states: North Carolina (30 districts, 1,402 schools), Virginia (9 districts, 262 schools), Missouri (6,75), Colorado (2, 263), Ohio (4, 189), and Oregon (4,106) make up 55 of the 65 identified districts and 2,297 out of the 2,535 schools.
- We are measuring districts that include at least one full day either closed or virtual as part of a scheduling change. While we have noted "early release" days in some districts to relieve pressure we aren't calling them a disruption.
- Average days closed are much lower for mental health breaks, generally one or two days wrapped around a holiday. The average closure length for all closures occurring the week of November 7th across the US was only 2.8 days. See below for the most updated closure events by week, a chart we started keeping when closures tended to be individual schools. A "closure event" is either an entire district closing all its schools (that would be one closure event) or an individual school closing within a district. As noted above, the week of November 7th saw 88 districts closing involving 2,625 schools. For the week of November 21st, we have already noted closure events involving 1,040 schools and expect that figure to increase further.
The spending is an important roadmap for K-12 suppliers and education policy. Burbio has currently tabulated by category over $30 billion in planned spending for 1,000+ districts across over 40 states and 50 categories. The effort is ongoing as additional school district plans are disclosed; there are days we add as much as $1 billion of planned spending to our database. We will continue this project indefinitely.
We wanted to start by showcasing some of the largest spending categories by district, as well as the planned spend per category:
- In Montgomery County, MD this local news outlet reports teacher vacancies resulting in staff having to cover additional classes during planning periods and lunch breaks.
- In Illinois this news report about Heyworth School District discusses hiring full-time staff dedicated to covering teacher absences.
- Santa Fe, NM school board declared a "staffing crisis" citing among other things a lack of substitutes resulting in teachers having to cover additional classes.
- Ypsilanti, MI reports an "unprecedented level of fatigue" among staff due to shortages in describing their extended break Thanksgiving week.
- In Newton, MA the Superintendent writes "Educators are reporting higher levels of anxieties among students, more instances of behavioral issues, and uneven capacity to follow classroom routines."
- In North Carolina in Winston Salem November 12th's mental health day is called a "Day of Kindness, Community and Connection" with an assignment for students and staff to "take care of themselves." In Craven County, NC the Superintendent declared November 12th "Craven Kindness Day" and requests "students and staff complete one act of kindness for someone else."
- Colonial School District in Delaware announced their November 12th closure by writing, " In this year where we have struggled to get substitutes to cover classrooms, cafeterias and school buses, we are concerned that we will be unable to operate the district in a safe and effective way on this day."
- Mask mandates continue to decline as now 331 of the largest 500 districts in the US mandate masks (from 341 last week) and 125 of the top 200 districts do so (from 129). In Pennsylvania a judge threw out the state's mask mandate and the state appealed. Governor Wolf had announced earlier in the week the mask mandate would be removed in January. Delaware's Governor extended that states mask mandate to February 8th while saying he hoped it would expire at that time.
- Scottsdale, AZ will move to mask-optional in January, which provides time for the 5-11 vaccinations to occur. Linn-Mar, IA schools will do the same, as will College County, IA. We see linking the removal of mask mandates to the full availability of vaccines for 5-11 year olds to be an ongoing trend among both districts where there is flexibility as well as states where they are currently mandated.