Mapping America’s response to the 20/21 school year shows that in much of the country, families have to contend with their state officials having given “No order” for their school’s reopening plans. Instead, in the vast majority of the country, localities and school districts are forced to make their own choices with very little official guidance or even requirements, which can be frustrating and confusing for families, as different districts in their states may have outlined diametrically opposed methodologies for how to conduct the school year. A new, interactive map from Education Week has compiled data from all 50 states, plus territories D.C. and Puerto Rico, to spot exactly where school buildings are open and where they are closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings illustrate that only seven states, plus D.C. and Puerto Rico, are requiring a full or partial closure of schools. The rest of the country is leaving the decision up to local officials, or, in just four states, schools are required to implement fully in-person instruction.
The map has classified states’ responses into four categories. Puerto Rico and D.C. are the only parts of the country that are doing “Full closure” which means that schools are not allowed to implement in-person learning until a certain date or further guidance from the state officials. Iowa, Texas, Arkansas, and Florida are marked “Ordered open,” meaning that the schools must do in-person instruction regardless of how cases are trending in that state. Several states, including Oregon, California, New Mexico, Hawaii, Delaware, West Virginia, and North Carolina are doing a “Partial closure,” which can get pretty convoluted for families since it means schools can be in one of the following situations: full-time in-person education won’t be allowed in certain districts, that schools may do hybrid learning, or that in-person learning can only be available for kids in specific grade levels, while other kids have to stay home.
And there are a few caveats even still. “Partial closure” states like California, for example, say that local districts get to decide when to re-open schools, but in order to have kids in the classroom, the district has to satisfy local metrics for case positivity rate for two weeks. But the fourth category, “No order,” is where things can potentially get very confusing for parents and students, as it means that decisions on in-person teaching are not being made at the state-wide level, but rather than individual regions make those decisions. States in that last category just make recommendations on how local officials should proceed, but they do not enforce decisions or stop them from making potentially dangerous ones. In Illinois, for example, districts can decide whether and when they would reopen schools, although the Illinois State Board of Education “has strongly encouraged” in-person education during the fall. Overall, this map feels at once incredibly clear—showing how the vast majority of states are letting districts decide on reopening schools, and just how so few places in the country are mandating fully remote education—but also obscured by a distinct emphasis on the local and the influx. Even with this map’s helpful data, it’s still hard to get a clear picture of what reopening looks like on a national level.