More than half of K-12 students nationwide have returned to the classroom for the 2021-22 school year, despite COVID-19 cases increasing in many parts of the country. - File photo courtesy JD Hardin

More than half of K-12 students nationwide have returned to the classroom for the 2021-22 school year, despite COVID-19 cases increasing in many parts of the country.

File photo courtesy JD Hardin

More than half of K-12 students nationwide have returned to the classroom for the 2021-22 school year, despite COVID-19 cases increasing in many parts of the country.

As of Monday, according to Burbio, a community events data service that tracks school openings, just over 25% of U.S. K-12 students returned to school, bringing the cumulative total to 62%.

However, with the start of the new school year, a handful of districts are pushing back school start dates and individual schools or grades are shifting to virtual learning due to increasing COVID cases and quarantines.

In Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Public Schools announced on Aug. 10 that it would be pushing back its initial start date two weeks, to Sept. 8.

“The shift of our start date will provide the time necessary for the transportation strategies we have put in place to take hold as we welcome students back for five days a week of in-person instruction,” Anthony D. Hamlet, the district’s superintendent said in a message on the district’s website. “We are also listening to the concerns raised by our staff related to the impact traditionally high temperatures in August have on our facilities now coupled with the use of masks.”

As School Bus Fleet previously reported, earlier this month Pittsburgh Public Schools announced that it would be enlisting the help of its local public transportation provider to transport students as it deals with an ongoing bus driver shortage.

Meanwhile, in Indiana, Scott County School District 1 is opting to host virtual learning for students until Aug. 23 as it faces rising COVID rates and an increasing number of students in quarantine. Other districts like Ware County (Ga.) School District have opted to close schools completely for “traditional and digital students and most staff members” through Aug. 27 after experiencing a “sharp” increase in cases.

While the absolute number of quarantine and COVID figures can be quite large, according to Burbio, it is worth noting that many of the county-sized districts reporting are quite large as well.

For example, Hillsborough County (Fla.) Public Schools reported 4,477 students (2.15% out of enrollment of over 200,000) and 289 staff (1.22%) were in quarantine at the end of last week due to a positive COVID case or exposure.

In Georgia, Gwinnett County Public Schools reported 625 “confirmed and probable” COVID cases on Aug. 13, out of approximately 180,000 students.

Despite the rise in cases, many states and school districts are still taking precautionary measures by adopting mandatory vaccination, testing, quarantining, and masking policies.

The California Department of Public Health recently issued a public health order requiring all school staff, including pupil transporters, to supply proof of vaccination or get tested once a week. 

Meanwhile, cities like Boston and Washington D.C. have announced similar vaccination and testing requirements, in addition to several school districts in Missouri and Maryland, including Montgomery County Public Schools, Prince George’s County Public Schools, and Howard County Public School System.

As SBF previously reported, in July, 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. The CDC urged schools to maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms and require indoor mask wearing by people who are not fully vaccinated to reduce transmission risk.

While mask policies continue to fluctuate amidst legal challenges across states, Burbio reports that over 30% of K-12 students are currently living in states where masks are required and 45% of students are living in states where districts have flexibility.

For more updates, view Burbio's K-12 school opening tracker and school mask policy tracker.

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