Exclusive CRPE data on continuity of learning, quarantines and more
Exclusive CRPE data on continuity of learning, quarantines and more
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Weekly COVID-19 response update
Aug. 26, 2021
This analysis was compiled by CRPE Principal Bree Dusseault and Resident Policy Fellow Christine Pitts.

This week, our review of 100 large and urban school districts dove into quarantine policies and districts' plans to provide remote learning to quarantined students (continuity of instruction).
We’re seeing more nuance on student exemptions and a few districts layering multiple strategies (masking, COVID testing, social distancing) to reduce quarantine day requirements. Districts’ communication on continuity of instruction is typically vague or absent, so we hope that this will be fleshed out in the coming weeks. We continue to see more upticks in other health precautions. 

  1. Quarantine Policies:
Overview. We saw significant movement this week on districts updating their quarantine protocols to explain whether and how students who have been exposed to COVID will be quarantined. Seventeen more districts updated their protocols in the past week, bringing the total in our analysis up to 83%.

Exemptions. We are beginning to see districts set more nuanced policies that exempt some students from quarantines, or provide the ability to return to school early with a negative COVID test. 

  • 58 districts in our review (or 72% of the 81 districts with updated policies) now exempt vaccinated students from quarantine
  • 25 districts exempt students who have recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days (31%)
  • 18 districts exempt masked students (22%).  
In addition, 22 districts report they will shorten the quarantine period for students who receive a negative COVID-19 rapid antigen test following exposure. The majority of these set a time frame for testing and return to school, ranging from 2 to 7 days after exposure. 

Eight districts exempt vaccinated students, masked students and students who have recently recovered from COVID. Alaska’s Anchorage School District and Florida’s Broward County Public Schools additionally exempt symptomatic students who have a doctor’s note verifying their illness is not COVID. 

While it allows many exemptions, Anchorage continues to share the longest potential quarantine period, allowing up to “24+” quarantine days for students who live with an infected household member and cannot avoid continued close contact. On the other extreme, Wichita Public Schools (Kan.) will allow exposed students to return to school immediately, provided they wear a mask for 14 days and take daily rapid antigen tests for eight days. Two weeks into school opening, however, Wichita has already placed 1600 students (roughly 3% of students) in quarantine for COVID exposure.

Other quarantine practices. While in weeks past quarantine policies focused on isolating exposed individuals through contact tracing, we are beginning to see districts establish policies for closing classrooms or whole schools. Duval County Public Schools (Fla.) recently updated its policy so that elementary classrooms will transition to online learning if two or more cases impact that class within a seven-day period.

Tracing and isolating. Of the 100 districts in our review, 77 are doing contract tracing to identify students for quarantine requirements. Forty-four share an in-school isolation protocol for how they will support students who test positive for COVID while at school. Virtually every in-school isolation policy mentions an isolation room or area, where students remain under supervision until picked up by a parent or guardian. 

Federal Guidance. In describing the authorities that informed their health precautions, 61 districts in our review reference both local and CDC health guidelines. An additional 21 districts only mention local health guidelines, and 12 districts only mention CDC guidelines.

  1. Continuity of Instruction for Quarantined Students
This week, we took a look at what districts plan to do to ensure quarantined students continue learning. 

  • More than a third of districts in our review (38) provide reference to supporting students with their learning while they are quarantined. 
  • Of these, just 19 give some detail on what to expect: 
    • 17 share that they will send students home with work: 11 plan to provide access to assignments through an online platform such as Schoology, and six plan to provide take-home assignments or packets. 
    • The remaining two provide a combination of take-home and remote assignments.
Of the 38 districts referencing continuity of instruction for quarantined students, 16 plan to provide instruction or support. 

  • Four districts commit to providing synchronous instruction: Clark County (Nev.), Houston ISD (Tex.), Jackson Public Schools (Miss.), and Jefferson County (KY). 
  • Six districts commit to providing students access to check-ins with teachers and staff: Austin (Tex.), Broward County (Fla.), Jefferson Parish (LA), Milwaukee (WI), Oakland (CA), and Wake County (NC)  
Early examples. Just a few districts provide enough detail to get a clear idea of what remote learning could look like for quarantined students:

  • Houston ISD provides the most information of districts we reviewed, with a dedicated webpage for quarantined students to learn about their options. The district commits to four hours of synchronous instruction a day, for up to twenty days total this school year (in alignment to the Texas’s cap for funded remote learning days). Students can also access the district’s remote learning platform. This could serve as a model for other districts. 
  • Broward County students can access dedicated teachers for a five-hour window of time each day, and get afterschool homework support, through a service called “Ask BRIA.” Students will also have access to virtual counseling and mental health support. 
  • Jefferson Parish (LA) commits its teachers to review asynchronous assignments, provide feedback, and monitor student progress via an online learning platform. 
  • At Oakland USD, if more than three students are quarantined from a classroom, the entire class will shift to school-based independent study for the 10-day isolation period. Teachers will utilize a learning management system to assign and collect student work, and the district will make available instructional materials for teachers to use for in-person or distance learning. The district will also make its standalone independent study academy available for students long-term.
It is not clear that districts will make their full-time remote learning programs available to quarantined students. Just one district so far, Los Angeles USD, clarifies this, and they do not plan to give students access to their remote learning program. 

  1. Remote Learning
Four more districts in our review than last week—now 89—are offering remote learning opportunities. Three school districts in Texas—Houston, Dallas and Arlington ISDs—recently opened virtual learning opportunities for grade levels not yet eligible for the COVID vaccine. Houston, like Austin ISD, is leveraging ESSER funds to offer this option since the state does not fund full-time remote students. Arlington opened its program due to a rise in COVID cases and only plans to offer it for six weeks. Dallas announced its new virtual school last Thursday evening to families, received 1,600 applications by its Monday 10 a.m. deadline, and started school this Tuesday morning. It commits to offer and re-evaluate the need for this school each nine weeks. 

Accessibility to all students. Of the districts offering remote learning, the majority continue to provide it to all students (55 of 89, or 62 percent). Of the districts with limited remote options, 15 restrict access to certain grade levels, 10 to students with medical exemptions, 6 to students who meet academic requirements or only admit students on a case-by-case basis, or 3 for a mix of reasons. 

The districts that limit enrollment based on academics–Baltimore City, Broward County, and Norfolk, VA–assess students based on their attendance last school year and academic benchmarks (e.g. GPA, assessments, pass rate of classes). Detroit Public Schools encouraged families only to enroll in their virtual option if their student excelled in online learning last year; students who were chronically absent or failed classes could still enroll but would be put on a probationary status.

  1. Masks, vaccinations and testing:
All 100 districts in our review have set a mask policy. Nine more districts enacted mask requirements this week, bringing the total to 75 districts requiring masks for all students and 5 districts requiring masks for at least some students. There are now just a fifth of districts (20) who keep masks optional.

Requirements for staff vaccinations increased this week from 10 districts to 15.  

  • Six districts require all staff to get vaccinated without a testing option (Chicago Public Schools, Denver Public Schools, L.A. Unified, New York City, Portland Public Schools in OR, and Seattle Public Schools). New York City schools announced a universal vaccine mandate shortly after the FDA approved Pfizer’s vaccine. 
  • Nine require staff members to either get vaccinated or participate in weekly testing. 
New York City joined Hawaii as the second district in our review to require student athlete vaccinations.

Twenty-two districts require staff to undergo preventative rapid antigen COVID testing – a slight increase from last week. 

  • Seven of these districts require all staff to undergo testing, regardless of vaccination status. Fifteen districts require testing for some staff members – such as those who are unvaccinated – and ten districts offer optional testing for staff. 
  • Meanwhile, student testing requirements have only slightly increased: 9 districts now require preventative testing for students. The number requiring all students to undergo testing (4) hasn’t shifted since last week.
5. State Reopening Updates

We are planning another state-by-state review of reopening guidance for districts next week and welcome your feedback on indicators you’d like to learn more about at the state level. We already plan to add state-level indicators that cover COVID-19 testing support for districts, quarantine policies, virtual learning policies, and plans for assessment and tutoring to our existing analysis. 

While we have not done an updated 50-state analysis, we continue to see movement on vaccine requirements:
  • On Aug. 18, Washington State implemented the strictest teacher vaccination requirement issued to date. While California, the first state to implement a statewide teacher vaccine policy, gives educators the option of full vaccination or regular COVID-19 testing, Washington limits opt-outs to stringent medical and religious exemptions. 
  • Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced one day later that all K-12 teachers across the state must be fully vaccinated by October 18 or six weeks after the full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine. 
  • This week, New Jersey became the first state not on the East Coast to enact a vaccine requirement. Similar to California’s, teachers will either have to get vaccinated or face regular testing.
  • Hours after being sworn in, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul followed suit, announcing her administration would soon implement a similar vaccine-or-test requirement for school personnel.
  • Govs. Asa Hutchinson (Ark.) and Phill Murphy (NJ) issued a joint bipartisan statement applauding the FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine and encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations for those who are so hesitant.

    6. Evidence for COVID-19 Policies
The RAND Corporation released data from a June survey of a nationally representative sample of superintendents, in which nearly half of leaders from three types of districts (urban, suburban, and majority students of color) said parents have "strongly demanded" social and emotional learning, more teacher-parent communication, or a fully remote schooling option this year.

RAND also released a July 2021 parent survey concerning school hesitancy and preferences for COVID-19 safety practices. The data reveal that parents want to know more about their children's school safety plans. Only 27% of parents knew the details of school safety plans and 60% wanted to know more.
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