More schools nationwide have moved from hybrid or in-person learning to virtual-only instruction as COVID-19 case numbers continue to climb, but many plan to bring some students back to campus as the new year unfolds.
As of Monday, according to data from Burbio, a community events data service that tracks school openings, 53.4% of K-12 students in the U.S. are attending school virtually, which is up from 50.8% last week. That latest number also reflects an increase in virtual learning from early December, when 49% of K-12 students were engaged in remote learning.
Meanwhile, just less than one-third of K-12 students, at 31.7%, are attending in-person school and 14.9% are receiving instruction through a hybrid school program, with a mix of in-person and virtual instruction, Burbio has found.
The rise in virtual learning can be attributed in part to post-holiday break in-person school closures, mainly in the Northeast, according to the data service.
Burbio also noted that quarantine-related closures have hampered the ability of many districts to keep schools open. That is changing, however, as governors, including those in Utah, as KSL News Radio reported, and Ohio, according to a post on Gov. Mike DeWine’s Facebook page, recently announced revised guidelines that will eliminate the need to quarantine in certain circumstances. The move comes on the heels of revised quarantine rules in many states to 10 days from 14 following changes in guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (The CDC also released on Monday additional strategies to protect school bus staff members — including bus drivers and aides — from COVID-19.)
Districts such as Yonkers (N.Y.) Public Schools, Lower Merion School District in Ardmore, Pa., and Ridgewood (N.J.) Public Schools are a few of many that are virtual this week but plan to return to in-person the week of Jan. 11 or after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday on Jan. 18.
Burbio also anticipates that many other districts in the Northeast as well as in the Midwest that shifted to virtual-only instruction in early December, due to the post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 case spike, will return on a similar time frame, as well as some of the mid-size city districts in the Midwest that closed before Thanksgiving. Along these lines, the Kentucky Department of Education released guidance on allowing in-person education as soon as Jan. 11 after closing all schools before the new year.
In heavily virtual regions, Burbio reports that state-level directives aim to help restart in-person learning in the coming weeks. Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia, a hybrid-heavy state that ramped up remote classes during the recent COVID-19 spike, directed in-person instruction for all K-8 students to begin by Jan. 19 with high school students in-person every day in regions with lower COVID-19 levels, according to the West Virginia Department of Education’s website. Meanwhile, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown directed state agencies to lay the groundwork for the introduction of in-person learning for younger students by Feb. 15, according to the State of Oregon’s website.
In other predominantly virtual states, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced on his website new guidance designed to make it easier for younger students to return to the classroom in 2021, as did California Gov. Gavin Newsom. (In particular, in the Los Angeles area, which has been especially hard-hit by the pandemic, Torrance [Calif.] Unified School District, began in-person classes for transitional kindergarten and first-grade students on Monday with safety protocols in place.)
The percentage of students attending virtual-only schools will likely drop over the course of the next six weeks, according to Burbio, as many districts with hybrid plans return after COVID-19-spurred breaks and schools in mid-size cities offering in-person learning in the fall and went virtual over the holidays return to in-person instruction.