Week of 5/17: Masks And Schools

Transitions are almost complete and we expect the academic year to end with roughly 30% of US K-12 students attending either hybrid or virtual schools. Policy shifts around masks in schools accelerated this week, and we offer a snapshot as to how local economies will be affected by the shifting timing and behaviors of the upcoming Back to School period.

Transitions are almost complete and we expect the academic year to end with roughly 30% of US K-12 students attending either hybrid or virtual schools. Policy shifts around masks in schools accelerated this week, and we offer a snapshot as to how local economies will be affected by the shifting timing and behaviors of the upcoming Back to School period.



% US K-12 students attending "virtual-only" schools = 2.6% (from 2.8 % last week)
% US K-12 students attending "traditional" in-person/every day" schools = 68.6% (from 67.9%)
% US K-12 students attending "hybrid" schools = 28.8% (from 29.3%)

The above percentages are set to Sunday, May 16th. Our data is presented as "students attending schools that offer this learning plan" - most districts also offer virtual even when providing in-person. For above, 2.6% of US K-12 students are currently attending schools that offer virtual-only plans, 68.6% offering traditional, etc.


1) Even as the year comes to a close there are some interesting developments across the districts:
  • East St Louis, IL extended their school year by five weeks, from 5/26 to 6/29, and attendance is mandatory for grades K-11. The district had been virtual through March, after which they brought K-5 in and later some older students. Any students currently virtual will stay virtual during the additional weeks of classes.
  • Albany, NY announced that 2021/22 plans are for hybrid for middle school due to 3 feet distancing guidelines.
  • Xenia, OH Schools no longer require 10 day quarantines as students without symptoms can return in 24 hours.
  • In Tecumseh, MI the district reports "public health officials in Lenawee County will not require local school districts, including Tecumseh Public Schools, to abide by Michigan's COVID-19 quarantine guidelines for students, though they do still recommend it. Tecumseh Public Schools and the other eleven public school districts in Lenawee County will no longer quarantine K-12 students if they are identified as 'close contacts' to positive COVID-19 cases. . . The change in regulations came after the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that school quarantine guidelines will now be enforced by local health departments instead of the state."
  • Out of Washington, DC, two interesting links. In this link the District outlines its use of stimulus funds to date, and in this link a building-by-building overview of summer programs.
2) This week's revised CDC guidance on masks for vaccinated individuals came in the midst of a movement to remove mask requirements at the K-12 level in several states. To date we have refrained from covering local mask-in-schools debates, as they are a recent phenomenon and were only occurring in a handful of districts already open for traditional in-person. The movement began accelerating this week and seems to portend a broader discussion about in-school precautions heading into the Fall.
  • Kearney, NE no longer requires masks and "KPS said there will also be no temperature checks, no limits on attendance at events and that social distancing will be optional."
  • Frisco, TX is removing mask mandates on June 1st while maintaining distancing efforts and quarantining rules.
  • South Carolina's Governor issued an executive order allowing parents to have children opt-out of wearing masks in schools and Aiken County schools immediately lifted mask requirements.
  • Parents in Harlan, IA are suing their district over mask mandates. "On Wednesday, the district started separating students who choose not to wear a mask from students who do," the story reports.
  • Fargo, ND lifted mask mandates for summer school. "Specifically, on June 7, face masks will be optional in our buildings, and schools will not conduct contact tracing. Families are encouraged to work with Fargo Cass Public Health and notify schools of a positive COVID-19 case" notes the release.
  • Bismark, ND schools removed mask mandates on May 4th. "No one spoke in favor of keeping the mandate, though (one parent) who has children enrolled in the district, thanked officials for efforts to keep students in school during the year."
  • Pasco, FL has lifted mask mandates on school buildings, offices and grounds as of May 28th.
  • Cobb County, GA lifted mask mandates for vaccinated individuals, "In addition, I know many of you have questions about mask guidance for students for the 2021-2022 school year. As our cases are continuing to trend down and vaccinations are trending up, we fully expect to start the 2021-2022 school year with masks as optional. We are looking forward to returning our entire focus to teaching and learning as soon as possible, as One Team," writes the Superintendent.
  • Utah's Governor removed the mask mandate for schools for the balance of the year and left it up to individual districts. Granite School District removed the mandate after protests disrupted a school board meeting earlier this month.
  • The recent examples cited above follow schools in Oklahoma and Alabama removing mandates in April.
This is a fast-moving situation, as indoor-masking rules are being adjusted by Governors and businesses across the US. The K-12 examples above are all in states led by Republican Governors that in general have school years that end over the next two weeks. K-12 school years in the Northeast and West Coast, where indoor mandates remain in place for schools even as Governors have begun lifting them for vaccinated individuals outside of school environments, go much further into June.


3) Next Fall school start dates are going to differ materially versus 2020, and further large chunks of the US where schools were hybrid or virtual last year will be traditional. The economic activity around K-12 has a dramatic effect on local employment conditions, retail sales, K-12 suppliers, and more. This week we highlight a region of the country that illustrate the cross-currents at play.


Below is a chart showing school start date changes versus 2020 (green = further into the Fall versus 2020, red earlier than 2020) with sample retailers in each county.

This separate analysis indexes each county by learning plan for 2020; we anticipate these regions being traditional in 2021. Note that with virtual opt-outs existing even in traditional districts there will be a change in activity versus 2020 depending on the sector.

4) We saw tiny shifts this week as the school year comes to a close with slight shifts to traditional.

K-5 Students:

1.9% attending virtual-only schools (from 2% last week)
22.8% attending schools offering hybrid (from 23.5%)
75.3% attending schools offering traditional (from 74.5%)

Grades 6-8 Students

2.6% attending virtual-only schools (from 3.3% last week)
31.4% attending schools offering hybrid (from 31.4%)
66 % attending schools offering traditional (from 65.3%)

High School Students

3.3% attending virtual-only schools (from 3.5% last week)
36.1 % attending schools offering hybrid (from 36.4%)
60.6% attending schools offering traditional (from 60.1%)

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