School districts across the country are being forced to reconsider their reopening plans and even reverse course for the upcoming school year, as coronavirus infection rates continue to spike and new hot spots emerge.
With conflicting opinions and contradictory plans continuing to emerge, here is where school reopening plans stand in big cities.
Los Angeles and San Diego
California’s two largest school districts announced Monday that schools will not open for any in-person instruction when the academic year starts in August, and that students will continue to learn remotely. Los Angeles Unified School District and San Diego Unified School District are the largest school districts to date to forgo any type of in-person instruction.
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner said in a video announcement that more information on the details to the start of the school year will be shared “in the coming weeks” and that “our goal is to welcome students back to school as soon as it is safe and appropriate for us to do so.” LA’s district is the second largest in the country.
The announcement comes just days after United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents 35,000 teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, called on schools to remain closed and focus on remote learning in light of the climbing number of coronavirus cases.
“It is time to take a stand against Trump’s dangerous, anti-science agenda that puts the lives of our members, our students, and our families at risk,” said UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz in a statement. “We all want to physically open schools and be back with our students, but lives hang in the balance. Safety has to be the priority. We need to get this right for our communities.”
The decision to keep schools closed in Los Angeles and San Diego goes against mounting pressure from the federal government to open schools as soon as possible.
President Trump reiterated his call for schools to reopen on Monday, citing that children’s immune systems are “much stronger” than adults after previously threatening to withhold funding from states that refuse to open for in-person instruction.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos echoed Trump’s sentiments about returning to in-person instruction on CNN’s State of the Union over the weekend. “Kids need to be in school,” DeVos said. “They need to be learning. They need to be moving ahead. And we can’t – we cannot be paralyzed and not allow that or not be intent on that happening.”
New York City
For the largest school district in the country, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his plan for schools to reopen for at least some in-person instruction in the fall. Proposing three models of staggered in-person instruction, de Blasio’s blended learning plan would allow for in-person attendance to range from one to three days a week.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that in order for in-person class to be allowed, a region must be in Phase 4 of reopening, which New York City is not. School districts also must be in regions where the daily infection rate remains at 5% or lower over a 14 day average. Cuomo said final decisions on reopening will be made during the first week of August.
Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring announced Monday that Atlanta public schools will start the first nine weeks of the school year virtually. Under Herring’s proposal, the start of the school year will be pushed back from August 10 to August 24.
The first two weeks of August will be used as preplanning for teachers. August 17 through 21 will be a mostly virtual period where students and teachers can get ready for the start of the school year, which could include some in-person, small group interaction. Herring said this period would be used to assess students’ ability and give students the opportunity to meet their teachers. Herring said the situation in Atlanta would continue to be monitored and reevaluated as the school year progresses.
“In the perfect scenario, we would have a face to face engagement for the first day of school,” Herring said during the virtual board meeting when making the announcement.
The Atlanta superintendent’s office shared results during Monday’s meeting from a poll of parents and teachers on their readiness to return. The poll was conducted through June 30, just before some of the peak numbers Atlanta is seeing now. According to the superintendent, 37% of participants want school to be fully virtual and 57% want the delivery model of instruction to be in alignment with health recommendations. The poll found that 72% of teachers and 67% of bus drivers were at least somewhat uncomfortable returning to work in person.
Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa expressed growing concern about being ready in time to reopen schools by mid-August, given the spiking rates of coronavirus in his district.
“We were planning on this for a while, so initially I thought we would be ready but I’m starting to have second thoughts about can we actually pull this off by August 17,” Hinojosa told MSNBC last week.
Following the superintendent’s comments, the school district tweeted that the Board of Trustees “will convene later this month for a special called meeting at which time, the administration may make recommendations for an alternative start date for the 2020-2021 school year.”
Earlier in July, the Texas Education Agency released its plan for reopening schools detailing that families will have the option of face-to-face or virtual instruction.
Detroit Public Schools opened their doors for summer classes on Monday, the first-time students will be allowed back for in-person instruction since doors were closed in response to the pandemic. Detroit will offer both in-person and virtual learning courses, and families are given the option to decide which model they prefer.
Roughly 4,000 parents signed up for voluntary summer school, with more than half choosing in-person instruction. Roughly 300 teachers signed up for 180 spots to teach in person.
The summer term, which runs through August 6, requires students and staff to wear face masks, practice social distancing, answer questions on a health form, and have their temperature checked. Classrooms and buses will also be disinfected daily.
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said he sees a “desperate demand for face-to-face learning.”
“The online learning wasn’t ideal and our children have fallen further behind” Vitti told CNN.
The Houston Independent School District will begin its school year September 8 with all-online instruction for six weeks. It then plans in-person instruction beginning October 19.
This is a significant change from previous tentative plans for a mid-August reopening date, most likely implementing a hybrid model.
Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan announced Wednesday that those dates are still subject to change based on Covid-19 conditions across the city.
Parents will have the option to opt out of face-to-face instruction entirely for the fall semester and 2020-2021 school year. Parents who select online-only must attend a virtual class outlining expectations and sign an agreement committing to virtual learning.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools is currently in Phase 1 of reopening and cannot offer in-person instruction until the region enters Phase 2. As the district prepares, it has called on parents and guardians to decide how they want their students to return to school: either in-person, through a blended model, or strictly online. Those decisions must be submitted to the district by July 15.
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho talked about the challenges his district faces on a recent appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“The issue of social distancing in any one school in Miami-Dade or Broward or Palm Beach or other districts may be difficult to achieve,” Carvalho said.
“Our start of the school year is six weeks from now. It is quite possible if the social behavior and the restrictions in place, if people wear masks, if people exercise social distancing that conditions may be appropriate and healthy for students to return to the very best model of teaching and learning which is in-person” Carvalho said.
But while the city considers blended models of in-person and remote learning, Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed for schools to reopen, making the argument last week that if Walmart and Home Depot can reopen, schools should, too.
“We spent months saying that there were certain things that were essential – that included fast food restaurants, it included Walmart, it included Home Depot. If fast food and Walmart and Home Depot – and look, I do all that, so I’m not looking down on it – but if all that is essential, then educating our kids is absolutely essential” the Republican governor said on July 10.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran laid down the gauntlet for school districts across the state on July 6 by issuing an emergency order requiring all “brick and mortar schools” to open “at least five days per week for all,” making it clear that the state’s priority is to get students to return to in-person instruction.
Nashville public schools were forced to reverse course, no longer returning to in-person learning on August 4, and strictly offering remote learning through at least Labor Day.
Last month, Nashville announced plans to offer two models for the start of the school year, both a physical, in-person return as well as virtual learning. However, given the latest coronavirus data in the area, school officials have now concluded that they should not return to the in-person model scheduled for August 4. “I’m not a public health expert, but I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with the data and information in front of us,” Adrienne Battle, the director of the Metro Nashville Public Schools, said in a news conference on July 9.
Battle noted that in the last week alone the area has seen “some of the worst daily numbers” since the crisis began in March, while also acknowledging her disappointment.
“This is not the way I wanted things to go,” she said.
The Philadelphia Independent School District plans to reopen schools in September with a hybrid of in-person and online learning, with most students physically attending school two days per week.
Under this plan, schools in Philadelphia would resume on September 2.
Each of the more than 200 schools within the district will create its own individual plan, while abiding by the safety guidelines outlined by Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. on July 15. These measures mirror those that many other major school districts nationwide are taking, including temperature/health checks, masks, social distancing, limiting classroom capacity, and increased cleaning of classrooms and public spaces.
“We all are living through a pandemic, and there will surely be challenges ahead, doing these uncertain times,” said Hite. “But I am confident that by working together, we will be able to provide our students with the education they need and deserve. And by working together, we will be able to develop solutions and as issues arise, and ensure that we will all get through this safely as possible.”
Public school students in San Francisco will start the fall semester with learning completely online.
San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Superintendent Vincent Matthews said that “after reviewing the best available evidence-based sources of guidance from health officials, and gathering input from staff, students, and families, we have determined that on August 17, 2020, our fall semester will begin with distance learning.”
SFUSD is the seventh-largest school district in California, with more than 57,000 students. The announcement follows both the Los Angeles and San Diego unified school districts’ decision this week to also start the year with full remote learning. The three California school districts collectively enroll almost 800,000 students.
Matthews said San Francisco hopes to provide a gradual hybrid approach, with both in-person and distance learning when it is safe to do so.
“The health and safety of students and staff is paramount,” he said.
CNN’s Bianna Golodryga and Jenn Silva contributed to this report.