Toward Reopening: What Will School Look Like this Fall?


With the pandemic-impacted spring semester wrapped up across the country, the main focus is now on the fall, when districts will need to translate public health guidance from organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control into local implementation to reopen schools.

Many states are actually issuing in-depth guidance to districts about how to approach reopening.

This article highlights key areas in reopening plans being provided by selected states (Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington) to districts. These states are selected because they reflect different parts of the country, student populations, and experiences with managing Covid-19. Many of these guidance documents are comprehensive, complicated, dense, and take a long time to read or understand. As one example, Tennessee Department of Education has issued over 20 reopening toolkits on topics which range from transportation to postsecondary transitions. Readers looking for in-depth information are encouraged to exceed the overview here and read available state guidance directly.

The key areas discussed in this article range from the priority populations for in-person instruction, class size and college scheduling, health screenings and masks, transportation, diagnostic assessment, technology, staffing, and finance. These are areas which have significant consequences for that reopening experience for staff, students, and families.



State Covid-19 Cases per 100K People
as of 6/26; CDC)
Total Student Population 2021
Guidance Release Date Guidance Link
Arizona 878.9 1,112,600 6/1/20
California 494.4 6,269,700 6/8/20
Florida 524.5 2,865,200 6/11/20
Massachusetts 1,562.4 960,800 6/25/20
Tennessee 561.8 999,000 6/15/20
Virginia 711.1 1,293,900 6/9/20


Washington 403 1,127,800 6/11/20


Key Areas

Some states, including California, Massachusetts, and Virginia, are specifying that certain populations ought to be prioritized for in-person instruction because of concerns regarding their learning loss. These student groups include:

  • Students with disabilities, specially those who receive summer services as a provision of their Individualized Teaching programs. One caveat with this particular emphasis is that states recognize some students with disabilities might be more at-risk for Covid-19.
  • English learner students who are less proficient with English or newcomers towards the country.
  • Students who was simply off track or only intermittently engaged just before and/or throughout school closures.
  • Vulnerable students who might be in danger socially or emotionally because of the school closures.

Florida further offers that school reopening should be done using the moral purpose of closing achievement gaps and has emphasized in its reopening plans a focus on addressing literacy development affected by school closure.

Maryland has also emphasized an emphasis on early childcare to permit parents and guardians revisit work.

States are selling guidance about how exactly all students can be in classrooms and also at what points during the week. Most states are relying on the three to six feet apart metric because the driving factor based on how many students can safely maintain an area in classroom and college capacity. Virginia has currently issued a maximum class size of 10 in the guidance.

Within these class size constraints, states are broadly exploring instructional choices for four possible scenarios:

  • All students start the college year while attending college in person
  • Some students start the school year attending in person although some are using distance learning
  • All students are distance learning from the beginning of the season, with the option of going back to in-person when appropriate
  • Students are intermittently in-person and distance education throughout the year

States commonly are not mandating a specific scenario for districts but are requiring districts to submit plans for just one or multiple scenarios for pre-approval. Massachusetts has in-person learning because the goal, but also suggested districts think about using an A/B cohort model that isolates two distinct categories of students who attend school in-person on different weeks, days, or half-days.

California provides more detailed examples about school scheduling for districts to consider:

  • Two-Day Rotation Blended Learning Model: Students report to school on two designated days based on grade level for in-person instruction (example: Monday/Wednesday for grade levels K -3, Tuesday/Thursday for grade levels 4 -6).
  • A/B Week Blended Learning Model: Half of a student population attends in-person learning opportunities four full days per week while the other half is engaged in distance learning opportunities. The students would alternate every week.
  • Looping Structure: For schools serving grade levels -8, students to stay with similar teacher in cohorts for multiple grade levels.
  • Early/Late Staggered Schedules: Grade level bands might have staggered start and dismissal times, for example morning or afternoon rotations (for instance, K -2, 3 -5, 6 -8, 9 -10,11 -12). The bell schedule would accommodate multiple recesses and lunch periods and multiple meal distribution points, along with here we are at students to take part in handwashing before entering classrooms. Students might be inside a homeroom with teachers rotating to lower student congregation in hallways.

States are considering how you can minimize Covid-19 spread in schools. States are highlighting that families have first responsibility for screening students for symptoms. Some states like Arizona and California are encouraging districts to implement health screenings for students on buses and college entrances. States are further suggesting districts provide space in schools to isolate students who exhibit Covid-19 symptoms.

States are recommending, otherwise requiring, masks to be worn by staff and students. Massachusetts has some nuance for students as students in second grade or older have to wear a mask or face covering, as time passes built-in for mask breaks throughout the day. Kindergarten and first grade students should wear a mask or face shield. Massachusetts also provides that face shields may be an option for students and staff not able to wear masks because of health conditions, disability impact or any other health or safety factors.

States are evaluating appropriate transportation configurations. States are usually applying the CDC guidance for 6 feet apart, a treadmill student per seat, which will necessitate fewer students per bus on average. Virginia has further specified a maximum of 10 people per bus. Tennessee has developed a reopening toolkit focused on additional transportation considerations like training drivers and planning for driver shortages.

Ultimately, bus transportation will probably be attached to the school schedule model implemented by a district where a staggered schedule requires increasing bus routes while an A/B schedule requires the same bus routes with fewer students each day. Transportation cost considerations can be a driving factor from the school schedule decision.

Massachusetts also acknowledges that students who depend on public transit to get at school may need special attention depending on the status of public transportation when school resumes.

States are determining how to assess students' academic and social-emotional skills when they go back to school. California and Washington are recommending universal screening of social-emotional, academic, and family needs. These states suggest districts consider screening tests and 1:1 diagnostics permitting focused time to identify needed supports and wish districts to make sure is a result of diagnostics or screeners are acted upon to satisfy student needs. Washington further suggests affirming that increased needs aren't an expression of a student's capacity but a direct result barriers to gain access to amplified during the pandemic.

States are asking districts to assess students' and staff's at-home technology access and arrange for additional device and connectivity access in case remote learning must persist.

Arizona has suggested some additional considerations:

  • Districts should consider that some students have been in a home with multiple children who need use of just one computing device to complete schoolwork.
  • Districts should consider leveraging community resources, working with non-profits, city/county/state/tribal governments or consortiums, and business and industry partners to secure computer devices/connectivity for college students and teachers.
  • To the extent possible, districts ought to provide students with individual computers or tablets with accessories sufficient to participate in video classrooms and each household using the hardware and Wi-Fi access (such as hotspots) essential to provide consistent internet with adequate speeds.
  • To the extent possible, districts should make budget adjustments, develop a operating plan, or leverage federal funding related to Covid-19, to buy computer devices and address internet connectivity issues.
  • To the extent possible, districts should provide uniform platforms according to common standards essential for virtual work, teaching and learning and communication for teachers, staff, parents, and students.

CDC guidance suggests flexibility in work arrangements for staff vulnerable to Covid-19. Arizona and Tennessee allow us specific guidance for teachers and staffing. This guidance encourages districts to determine work hours and expectations well in advance of the school year beginning. These states encourage districts to consider what they is going to do for staff who're unable to go back to in-person work because of health problems.

States are determining how to support districts during growing concerns regarding district budget stability due to declining state revenues and potential shifts in student enrollment and attendance.

In the short term, Massachusetts has indicated schools qualify to get up to $225 per student for eligible costs incurred due to the Covid-19 public health emergency, such as practicing school staff, supplemental social and academic services, reconfiguration of school spaces, leasing of temporary facilities, and acquisition of health insurance and hygiene supplies. Their state is also exploring the utilization of other funds for schools. Arizona and Florida are similarly making applications available to districts to apply for funds. Florida has emphasized the priority spending will focus on earlier grades, because they think about the educational risk for college students and also the return on early supports are both at their greatest. Florida further specifies using other grant funding that is being invested in support programs like reading coaches and curriculum development.

Arizona provides the following guidance to stem longer-term budgetary issues:

  • Limiting budgets from decreasing a lot more than 2 % (2%)
  • Allowing for college students who take part in person or remotely inside the first 10 days of faculty to count as enrolled for that first day of the school calendar
  • The ability to mark a student's absence as excused when associated with issues of coronavirus concerns
  • Accommodate ale districts or schools to offer flexible and adaptable instructional models by linking funding calculations to those models in the same way just like regular instruction.

Washington has discussed it's exploring the implications of use of the advantages of 180-days of instruction and 1,027 annual average hours of instruction for the 2021 -21 school year and will use legislators to determine if day and hour waivers will be available to districts. Washington will still tie district funding to attendance.

States are actively working to provide guidance to districts concerning how to reopen schools within the constraints of public health guidance. Analyzing the guidance and highlighting key areas of the chosen plans to date might help illuminate how school might look this fall in the absence of major improvements towards the public health situation.

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