Week of 8/23: Mapping Disruptions

On a percentage basis we saw a material increase in school closures this week and we have added a new map measuring the situation. The map can be seen at the top of our School Opening Tracker page. The information is being gathered from a variety of sources. We will be updating it continually and we have a submission form that allows the public to direct us to new information.

On a percentage basis we saw a material increase in school closures this week and we have added a new map measuring the situation.  The map can be seen at the top of our School Opening Tracker page.   The information is being gathered from a variety of sources. We will be updating it continually and we have a submission form that allows the public to direct us to new information.  



1) This week we start with observations from the school closure map (image below, and an interactive version on our School Opening Tracker)     Note that on the map there are links to source sites with details on each situation.  We expect the map to update rapidly in the coming days through a combination of our own auditing, public contributions, local media sources and some emerging state level resources.  The observations below remain directional given how fluid the situation is:  
  • With the major exception of Pittsburgh, where this media report outlines the logistical challenges that district is having, the schools that are closing tend to be in small districts, and in the cases where entire districts are shutting they are smaller as well.  
  • We have identified over 100 school closures across over 70 districts as of this writing.  In twenty cases school was closed entirely, in a handful of cases school start was pushed back and in the balance learning occurred virtually.  Some districts, such as Randolph County, GA, are evaluating how learning will occur going forward.  
  • Just over 80% of the closures identified started on Monday, August 16th, and many were in places where schools started the first week in August, implying a lag time as Covid 19 cases are identified and decisions are made.  .
  • School has not started yet in the Northeast, the Upper Midwest, Oregon, Washington, or the DC/MD/VA areas.    
  • The closures are occurring in states that had high in-person indexes last year. It is worth noting that last August many districts in the deep South (Miami and Broward in Florida; Dallas, San Antonio and Austin in TX, among many others) started the year virtually in August 2020 due to Covid-19 and only transitioned to in-person in the early Fall. 

2) In last week's blog post we discussed CDC Guidance and the quarantine exceptions if exposed and infected students within 3 to 6 feet were wearing masks.  For states using those guidelines there will be material differences in quarantine levels in places where masks are present versus not.  A few other points to note:  
  • It is important to add that according to the guidelines "This exception does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults in the indoor classroom setting:"
  • In Indiana, a state where where over 90 percent of schools reporting are reporting one or more Covid 19 cases, we continue to see districts change plans to "masks required," among them Beech Grove City Schools, IN where 27 Covid 19 cases to date (without masking)  resulted in 323 quarantines.  The bottom section of this letter from Brownsburg, IN school district, which is also switching to mask required, adds further context by showing the dramatic increase in Covid 19 cases in the district versus August 2020.    
  • We expect to see most districts in light green states on our School Mask Policy Tracker that follow CDC quarantine guidelines to require masks.  In Ohio, a  "local flexibility '' state following CDC quarantine rules where schools opened this week, we noted letters from Lakota Local Schools adding a mask mandate due to quarantine rules, and Middletown City Schools doing the same. This survey from Lakota gives a window into how fraught the issue is as 49% of over 6,800 parent respondents believe masks should be optional for all grades, 33% felt they should be required for all grades, and 15% felt masks should be required for grades K-6.  Over half (52%) of over 900 staff who responded felt masks should be optional for all grades. 
  • In New York, where at least for now there is flexibility but the state follows CDC quarantine rules, Central Islip put together this short slide show that explains to their parents the role masks will play in keeping schools open. 
  • Not all states have quarantine guidelines that distinguish between masked and unmasked. Last week we noted Texas and Florida which have less stringent guidelines. Iowa's guidelines don't mirror the CDC either, focusing on Covid 19 positive individuals staying home and not quarantines. In South Carolina the state has detailed recommendations on mask use, contact tracing, and vaccination, but states "While mask use among unvaccinated individuals of all individuals age two years and older is strongly recommended, the presence or absence of masks does not affect the DHEC definition of a close contact for K-12 students."    In Georgia's extensive guidance  point 6 in the quarantine section notes, "However, recognizing the importance of in-person learning, schools may elect to adhere to different quarantine requirements as developed by the local school district to facilitate in-person learning. Individuals subject to quarantine may only adhere to such different quarantine requirements as long as the point of exposure occurred in the school setting and as long as they remain asymptomatic."
3) Vaccine mandates are expanding across the US.   Based on recent trends we would expect state-level vaccination mandates for education staff to continue in Democratic-led states over the next few weeks. 
4)  In mask policy news: 
  • New Mexico imposed a school mask mandate, as did Rhode Island, turning both states blue on our Mask Policy Tracker map.  
  • Amidst a blizzard of challenges across the state the Texas Education Association announced it will not be enforcing the ban on mask mandates. With a law on the books, for now we are keeping Texas dark green but will flip it to light green if the "no enforcement" situation persists.  The state of Florida is in a similar situation with a continuing list of districts mandating masks in the face of state regulations.  
  • In Tennessee, a state with local flexibility, Governor Lee signed an Executive Order giving parents the right to opt out of local mask mandates. 
  • The majority of South Carolina students started this week and Charleston County and Richland County districts added mask mandates in spite of state level prohibitions.  
  • In Kentucky a Federal judge ruled that the Governor does not have the authority to issue an Executive order on masks without consulting the legislature.  The suit was brought by Catholic schools and for now will only apply in the group of schools involved in the suit. 

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