America’s largest school district, New York City, brought some 300,000 students back for in-person learning on Tuesday, even as Covid-19 rates in the city began to tick up. Meanwhile, schools in Miami announced a return to fully in-person learning this month, after a disastrous rollout of online education earlier in the fall. Then there are schools from Kentucky to New Jersey that have switched from in-person to remote learning in recent weeks due to Covid-19 cases.
Like everything about the response to the coronavirus in America, school reopenings have been a patchwork, with states and districts each following their own guidelines — some informed by public health guidance, some less so. As millions of Americans try to make decisions about their children’s education, or their own work as teachers or school staff, they face a terrifying lack of information: There’s no nationwide data on the number of Covid-19 cases in K-12 schools.
Still, we are starting to get a picture — or perhaps a rough sketch — of what education looks like in this time — helped along largely by data collection efforts by the New York Times and the Covid-19 School Response Dashboard.
We are beginning to have a sense of how common Covid-19 is in schools that have reopened, and what schools are doing to reduce the spread of the virus. We know that rates among staff are markedly higher than those among students — not a surprise given previous evidence that adults are more likely to contract the virus, but significant nonetheless. And we know that, at least for now, hybrid learning models employed in many districts to make schools safer have not completely eliminated the risk.