The coronavirus pandemic continues to spread throughout the U.S., with over 4 million cases in the country as of late July. In the wake of COVID-19, states must now decide how and when schools should reopen for the upcoming academic year, weighing the risks and benefits of having children return for in-person instruction versus distance learning. Some states are moving forward with plans to reopen all schools for in-person learning, while others are suggesting a hybrid model — and many are allowing school districts to decide for themselves based on the risks in their particular areas.
Find out if your school will be reopening in the fall.
Last updated: Aug. 5, 2020
On June 26, state superintendent Eric Mackey released Alabama’s reopening guidance. The 50-page instruction manual stated that “effective June 1, 2020, all schools, public and private — including elementary, secondary, postsecondary, technical and specialty schools, and colleges and universities” would require students and staff to wear masks, practice social distancing and perform regular disinfection of surfaces and other used items. Though Mackey seemingly encouraged children to return to schools, he also announced that the districts would offer remote learning opportunities for any kids that didn’t come back in the fall.
Alaska is encouraging individual districts and schools to create plans for how they will deliver education under low-risk, medium-risk and high-risk environments. The plans will be built around three primary areas: (1) conditions for learning, which includes safety protocols, (2) continuity of learning, which includes school schedules and curricula and (3) capacities for learning, which includes budgets and facility use.
On July 23, Gov. Doug Ducey ordered public schools to reopen for on-site learning on Aug. 17 for students “who have nowhere else to go.” Superintendent Kathy Hoffman clarified that the order meant that each school district must open at least one site for students to attend.
On June 1, the Arizona Department of Education released its guidance for reopening schools for the 2020-21 school year. The protocols for in-person instruction include screening students before entry, face-covering requirements, smaller class sizes and the elimination of communal dining halls.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson delayed school openings, pushing the planned start date from Aug. 13 to Aug. 24. The Arkansas Department of Education is leaving it up to the districts to decide whether or not to open schools for on-site operations, though all schools are expected to implement a “blended learning” approach. According to Arkansas’ Ready for Learning plan, “this type of system incorporates both on-site teacher interaction and off-site instruction, including new content, through streamed or uploaded lessons and activities if extended school closures become necessary.”
On July 17, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that counties on the state’s coronavirus watch list would begin the school year with online-only education. As of July 20, 33 of the state’s 58 counties were on the watch list.
For those not on the watch list, local conditions should guide reopening decisions, according to California Department of Education guidelines. Those schools that do reopen for in-person learning must adhere to a number of hygiene, safety and cleaning practices, including regular hand-washing, face-covering requirements and at least daily disinfecting of high-touch surfaces.
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The Colorado Department of Education released guidelines for reopening with separate criteria for elementary schools and secondary schools. Decisions about school start dates and remote learning are being left to local districts.
On June 25, education commissioner Miguel Cardona said that his department was proposing all schools reopen to students in the fall. Cardona said that students and staff will be required to wear masks while inside school buildings.
The final decision on whether or not Connecticut schools will reopen will be made in August.
Delaware has yet to make a call on whether or not schools will open for in-person instruction in the fall, though it’s likely the decisions will be left to the district, Delaware Online reported. Districts are being encouraged to create reopening plans that account for in-person, hybrid and distance-learning models.
Delaware will announce its official school reopening plans in August.
On July 6, the Florida Department of Education ordered that all public and charter schools must physically open for at least five days per week for all students beginning in August.
The department has released a number of mitigation strategies for schools to use to help combat the spread of COVD-19, including practicing social distancing whenever possible and disinfecting high-traffic surfaces regularly. The use of face masks in schools is not mandated, though the guidelines state that “schools should be supportive of students, teachers and staff who voluntarily wear cloth face coverings.”
The Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Department of Public Health released guidelines for reopening K-12 schools based on the level of community spread. In areas where there is substantial spread, schools should implement remote learning. If there is minimal or moderate spread, districts can choose to implement in-person, remote or hybrid learning. In areas where there is low or no spread, schools will be open for in-person instruction with preventive and proactive protocols in place.
Preventive practices outlined in the guidelines include providing hand soap and hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, paper towels and no-touch trash cans in all bathrooms; conducting a deep cleaning of schools prior to students and staff returning; and ensuring ventilation systems operate properly. Students and staff are allowed to wear face coverings, but they are not mandated.
The Hawaii Department of Education announced public schools would begin reopening starting Aug. 4. The type of instruction will depend on the impact level of the coronavirus throughout the year, with instruction to take place in person, virtually and through “blended learning” until there is no pandemic-related disruption, in which the schools will transition fully to in-person learning.
On July 9, Gov. Brad Little and the Idaho State Board of Education unveiled a framework for reopening schools. Although the details are up to school districts, the framework makes it clear that schools are expected to reopen for in-person instruction.
Each district must come up with its own cleaning, disinfection and physical distancing protocols that are approved by the local health district. In addition, all schools that reopen for in-person instruction must have a plan in place for immediate closures should a student, faculty or staff member be diagnosed with COVID-19.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s guidance for the in-person reopening of schools requires face coverings for all students and staff, prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people and establishes temperature screenings and social distancing protocols. Schools are allowed to reopen for in-person instruction while a district is in phase three of the state’s reopening plan, and are encouraged to be open for in-person instruction when the district is in phase four.
Indiana released guidelines in June for schools to consider before reopening. The guidelines include requiring face coverings and social distancing rules. Schools in Indiana were allowed to reopen for in-person instruction beginning July 1.
On June 25, the Iowa Department of Education announced that schools would be allowed to reopen beginning July 1. Officials announced that there would be no requirement for students or staff to wear face coverings, undergo health checks or social distance.
On July 17, Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered that schools conduct at least half of their education in person. She said that districts could seek waivers to the requirement from the Iowa Department of Education.
The Kansas State Board of Education approved guidelines for reopening schools for the 2020-21 school year that are meant to help districts craft their own individual plans. According to the guidelines, “some districts will be able to bring all students back into the classroom. Some districts may need to implement a remote learning environment, while others may need to implement a hybrid learning environment. We anticipate that these environments will be ever-changing over the course of this school year.”
On July 6, the Kentucky Department of Education released guidelines on reopening schools in the fall. The guidelines do not mandate a uniform course of action for reopening schools.
The guidelines suggest that schools be open to implementing “alternative learning experiences,” including scheduling students to attend in rotations to reduce the number of students in schools at any given time, allowing parents to choose whether their student attends in-person or online school, a hybrid model and a fully online model.
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Although the decision to reopen for in-person schooling is being left to the district, the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted unanimously to approve guidelines for state schools that include a requirement for all adults and students in grades three through 12 to wear face coverings.
On July 17, Gov. Janet Mills announced a framework for reopening schools that comes in the form of a three-tiered health advisory system and takes into account public health metrics on a county-by-county basis. Counties that are at high risk for coronavirus spread should not conduct instruction in person, counties that have an elevated risk should opt for a hybrid model and counties that are at low risk can open for in-person instruction, but may opt for a hybrid model “if its buildings or readiness make adhering to the Required Health and Safety Measures for All Schools a challenge.”
These required health and safety measures include self-checks for symptoms prior to each school day, physical distancing, face coverings for all staff and students ages two and above, proper hand-washing and home isolation for sick staff members and students.
Maryland superintendent of schools Karen Salmon announced that schools had until Aug. 14 to submit their reopening plans to the state board of education for approval. Schools will be allowed to open for in-person instruction as long as they follow specific CDC and state health guidelines, and meet benchmarks set by the state.
Gov. Charlie Baker released guidance for reopening schools that requires all staff and students in second grade or higher to wear masks, social distancing of desks in classrooms and students to eat breakfast and lunch in their classrooms. The state hopes that all schools will be able to reopen in the fall.
“We want to start the school year with as many of our students as possible returning to in-person settings — safely,” Jeffrey C. Riley, commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said in a letter to teachers, administrators and parents. “If the current positive public health metrics hold, we believe that when we follow critical health requirements, we can safely return to in-person school this fall with plans in place to protect all members of our educational community.”
On June 30, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released the MI Safe Schools Return to School Roadmap. The roadmap states that “local education leaders should use this Roadmap to understand what safety protocols must be implemented, and to develop detailed district and building-level plans for how to implement the required safety protocols described in the Roadmap.”
Required safety protocols depend on the area’s reopening phase. Michigan is currently in phase four — though some are in phase five. Required safety protocols in phase four include face coverings for staff and students, and adequate supplies for frequent hand washing.
According to the Minnesota Department of Education website, “it is too soon to determine how students will return to school this fall.” It’s still possible that instruction could take place in person, remotely or with a hybrid model.
The Mississippi Department of Education released optional guidelines for schools reopening in the fall. It is up to school districts to choose a traditional, hybrid or online learning schedule.
On June 9, Missouri education commissioner Margie Vandeven announced that fall reopenings for schools would occur at the discretion of county and school board officials. The Missouri Department of Education released guidance for reopening schools, but their guidelines are recommendations rather than mandates. Recommendations for in-person schooling include screening students and faculty for symptoms, limiting students and faculty to the same group of people every day (cohorting) and requesting students and faculty to wear masks.
Gov. Steve Bullock released a plan that encourages schools to implement precautions that include limiting occupancy, adjusting transportation schedules and adopting special cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
“Noting the uniqueness of every school district in Montana, our goal … is not to be prescriptive, but to provide effective, flexible guidelines to all schools in hopes that we can safely resume in-person instruction in the fall,” Bullock and Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney said in a letter to the education community.
Nebraska’s Department of Education is encouraging school districts to collaborate with their local health departments when developing reopening plans.
The department released the Launch Nebraska guidelines to provide schools with suggested protocols based on the level of risk for coronavirus spread for their particular area.
Remote learning is suggested for areas with significant risk, and a hybrid model is suggested when the risk is moderate. Low-risk areas can return to in-person instruction with mitigation efforts in place, including the wearing of face masks “when feasible.”
On June 9, Gov. Steve Sisolak signed an executive order allowing schools to reopen buildings and athletic facilities, effective immediately.
The Nevada Department of Education released a Framework for a Safe, Efficient and Equitable Return to School Buildings, but the protocols included are suggested guidelines rather than mandates, as decisions on when and how to reopen schools will be made on the local level.
Gov. Chris Sununu released guidance for reopening schools, though school districts have been given local control over how they reopen. Education commissioner Frank Edelblut said that he expects students back in schools in September.
During the 2020-21 school year, parents will be able to opt their children into a fully online learning schedule. For in-person schooling, the New Jersey Department of Education released a 104-page reopening plan that includes social distancing guidelines and a face-covering requirement for teachers and staff.
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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that schools will not be able to open for in-person instruction until after Sept. 7. Individual school districts decide when classes begin in New Mexico, so there is no statewide reopening date.
According to the New Mexico Department of Public Education’s guidance for reopening schools, students and staff are required to wear masks, and large gatherings like pep rallies and assemblies have been eliminated for the upcoming school year.
Each school district is required to submit a district-specific reopening plan by July 31. The plans must adhere to the state’s mandatory guidelines, which include health checks, social distancing and face coverings for students and staff.
As of July 14, schools are set to reopen under a “moderate social distancing plan.” Under this plan, schools are open but density is limited and students will be taught through “blended learning.”
On May 11, Gov. Doug Burgum announced that schools in North Dakota could reopen starting June 1 for summer programs, though schools were not required to. While school districts must prepare plans for in-person, hybrid and distance learning for the fall semester, Burgum is permitting all school districts to open their buildings full time.
Gov. Mike DeWine announced on June 2 that he intended to reopen schools for in-person instruction in the fall. The state is still working to develop health guidelines for schools, and districts will be given the flexibility to determine their start date.
The governor released guidelines for reopening schools that include a requirement for all staff to wear masks and a recommendation that students in third grade and higher wear masks.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education released a framework for schools to use when weighing reopening options, but left decisions up to the school districts.
On June 10, the Oregon Department of Education released guidelines for schools to reopen for the 2020-21 school year. Under the plan, individual public and private schools will need to submit an Operational Blueprint for Reentry to their local public health authority before they reopen. The blueprints must address essential public health protocols as outlined by the state, including the requirement of face coverings for all staff and students in grades kindergarten and up.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Education school reopening guidelines allow school districts to craft their own plans, subject to review by the department, but limit reopening options based on the strength of outbreaks in various regions of the state.
School districts were required to submit three plans — for in-person, hybrid and distance learning — to the Rhode Island Department of Education by July 17. All plans must allow for distance learning, as this type of learning may be necessary districtwide or minimally used for staggered schedules or for students who are homesick or in quarantine. However, in its Back to School RI guide, the State said that it “is committed to working with schools to ensure as many students as possible are able to return to in-person learning at the beginning of the school year.”
Schools will receive feedback on their plans by July 31 and school is expected to start Aug. 31.
On June 22, superintendent of education Molly Mitchell Spearman released recommendations on reopening schools in the state. The recommendations include required face coverings for all students and staff, social distancing protocols, one-way hallways, staggered arrivals and dismissals and buses operating at 50% capacity. However, the guidance is not mandated or state required.
The South Dakota Department of Education states on its website that when making decisions about reopening, “school leaders should work in concert with local government and health officials and make decisions based on current conditions, considering the various aspects of student and staff well-being, including physical, academic and social-emotional.” The department also stated that “schools will provide face-to-face instruction as much as possible throughout the 2020-21 school year.”
Tennessee schools are set to reopen in August. The Tennessee Department of Education released guidance for reopening schools that does not require Tennessee school districts to adopt any particular approach but provides suggestions and best practices for safely reopening, including requiring students and staff to wear masks and setting staggered schedules.
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On July 17, the Texas Education Agency ruled that local school districts can keep schools closed and teach students remotely for up to eight weeks from the start of the school year without losing funding, so long as the local school board votes on the matter after four weeks. After the eight-week period, students must return for in-person instruction.
On June 29, Gov. Gary Herbert approved the Utah Board of Education’s reopening plan for the 2020-21 school year, which allows for local districts to make decisions based on state recommendations. The plan does outline specific mandates that all districts must follow, including the use of face coverings in all public and private K-12 schools.
The Vermont Agency of Education released a 25-page guidance document for reopening schools. The guidance includes health checks on entry, staggered drop-off and pickup times and hand sanitizing stations at entrances.
On June 9, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that schools would reopen for in-person instruction for the 2020-21 school year via a three-phase reopening. Phase one has remote learning as the dominant teaching strategy, phase two allows in-person instruction for preschool through third grade and phase three allows in-person instruction for all students.
Superintendent of public instruction Chris Reykdal released guidance for reopening schools that requires face coverings for all students and staff and the development of alternate instruction plans for each school. However, many districts have already announced plans to start off the school year with remote learning.
The West Virginia Department of Education, along with the West Virginia Department of Human Health & Resources, released a Re-Entry Toolkit to help schools, boards of education and local health departments make decisions that best serve their students. The toolkit states that “counties must have contingencies in place to deliver instruction in person, via a hybrid model or through a full remote delivery model.”
Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor said that she expects schools to reopen for in-person instruction in the fall, though they should be prepared to shift from in-person schooling to physically distanced to virtual learning throughout the year depending on the level of coronavirus risk. Guidance provided by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction outlined several scenarios for physically distanced learning, including four-day school weeks, a two-day rotation and an A/B week rotation.
On July 1, the Wyoming Department of Education released guidance for reopening schools in the state. The state’s 48 school districts are responsible for developing reopening plans in accordance with the guidance and submitting those plans for approval by the state. Each plan must account for three scenarios: traditional learning, hybrid learning and distance-only learning.
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Andrew Murray contributed to the reporting for this article.
This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Here’s How Your State Plans To Reopen Schools