As school districts across the U.S. prepare for a return to classrooms this fall, some still have virtual and hybrid learning plans in place as a new, more aggressive variant of COVID-19 is causing cases to rise once again.
As of Monday, according to Burbio, a community events data service that tracks school openings, 2.1% of U.S. K-12 students are currently attending schools that offer virtual-only plans, 28.2% are offering hybrid plans, and 69.7% of K-12 students are attending traditional, in-person learning. As School Bus Fleet previously reported, in March, the remote learning model has continued to decline as revised social distancing guidelines are expected to accelerate school reopenings.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated school reopening guidance, that encouraged a safe return to in-person learning for the start of the 2021-22 school year and for schools to maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask wearing by people who are not fully vaccinated, to reduce transmission risk.
“When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully reopen while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking,” the CDC stated in its guidance, which also recommends the use of testing and quarantining.
Regardless of a school’s mask policy, the CDC states that all passengers and drivers must wear a mask on school buses, including on buses operated by public and private school systems, subject to the exclusions and exemptions in CDC’s Order. For example, if a student attends a school where mask use is not required due to vaccination status (e.g., a high school with a high rate of vaccination among students and staff), the student is still required to wear a mask on the school bus.
According to Burbio, seven states are currently prohibiting schools from mandating masks. Schools in Utah, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Iowa, Vermont, and South Carolina are reportedly only able to recommend masks to unvaccinated staff and students.
Meanwhile, in California, schools announced that they will continue requiring masks, citing the layered language around situations where 3 feet distance are not achievable, as well as the desire to treat all students equally.
Additionally, with the CDC’s updated guidance on testing and quarantining, several school districts have implemented policies to ensure student and staff safety.
In Illinois, Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202 has outlined several quarantine rules for students who have signed up for the district’s saliva test program (3 foot rule) versus those who have not (6 foot rule). At Elkhart (Ind.) Community Schools, asymptomatic, unvaccinated students identified as close contacts will be able to attend school but will have to wear a mask and maintain a 6-foot distance while eating. Schools in Colorado and Maine have also adopted new, specialized testing programs, including one which features a pooled testing system.
While there has been widespread discussion about the new Delta variant of COVID, according to Burbio, most districts have not announced revised plans for a return to the classroom.
Shawnee Mission School District in Kansas plans to move forward with in-person learning on July 27, and Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indiana is following suit a day later, on July 28. School districts in Georgia, Hawaii, and Arizona, are also gearing up for in-person instruction during the first week of August.
As for hybrid learning plans, they are still in place for some schools in states like Wisconsin, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, as they offer variations of independent virtual study mixed with in-person learning.