U-Turn: Surge of COVID Cases Reverses Reopening Progress in America's School Districts

January 2021

As of December, a statistically representative sample of 477 school districts showed that 31 percent were operating fully in remote learning—a larger percentage than at any other point during the fall semester.

This brief gives an update from our ongoing review of reopening plans from around the country. We found:

Districts take two steps back after incremental movement toward in-person learning earlier this fall:

  • Learning models continue to vary widely across urban, suburban, and rural locales.
  • Fewer districts changed their model from November to December, but those that did were more likely to move to remote learning.

Gaps in understanding student learning and supporting their experiences during the pandemic:

  • Less than half of districts mention the use of assessments to help tailor instruction and resources to student needs.
  • Less than a third of districts offer childcare or learning hubs for students while not in person.

High COVID-19 case rates, parent and teacher concern, the rise of a new, more contagious variant of the virus, and a slower than expected vaccine rollout threaten the return to in-person learning in the short term. But school districts can continue pushing to provide more intensive support to students wherever learning happens.