Education

Reopening America’s Schools: A Snapshot of What It Looked Like in 2020-21

By Stephen Sawchuk — September 23, 2020 2 min read

As schools kicked off the 2020-21 academic year, Education Week began to collect a sample of reopening plans. With a data set of more than 900 districts, this collection—among the most comprehensive to date on schools’ reopening plans— is available for your use.

The fully downloadable database comprises 907 districts, including:


  • The 100 largest districts in the U.S., including Puerto Rico
  • The largest district in each state;
  • At least 5 districts from each state (exceptions are Hawaii, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, which are single district jurisdictions).

Here are some of the key insights:


  • Of the 100 largest districts, 74% chose remote learning only as their back-to-school instructional model, affecting over 9 million students.
  • Almost half (49%) of all districts opened with remote learning, while hybrid instruction was used in 27% of the school districts and full in-person instruction was available to all students in 24% of the districts.
  • At least 222 out of the 907 districts, or almost a quarter, delayed the beginning of the school year. Just four began the year early. (A handful of these delays were due to other factors, like the wildfires on the West Coast or the hurricane damage on the Gulf Coast rather than the pandemic.)

We should also be clear about what this data set is not.

With more than 13,000 school districts in the United States, it represents fewer than 10 percent of all public systems.

It is not a nationally representative sample; the inclusion of the nation’s largest districts obviously tilts it towards urban and suburban areas, and given density and other factors, that is one reason why remote-only learning seems so dominant in this snapshot of districts. (Districts in more rural communities and small towns are generally more likely to have begun in-person, according to other Education Week survey data.)

It doesn’t take into account that some districts have already shifted their model since the beginning of school, often as coronavirus cases have diminished (or increased) locally. Hybrid plans, for example, are sometimes a stepping-stone to full in-person learning. Some districts, like Miami-Dade, began with remote learning but plans to return to in-person classes by mid-October. In other cases, districts moved to remote learning after COVID-19 cases cropped up in their schools.

And the data don’t specify those districts that are allowing students and families to choose a remote oprtion even if in-person learning is available. Many districts have given families a choice between the two.

We hope the data will be useful to you; please drop our library team a note and tell us how you made use of it, at library@educationweek.org.

Photo: Eighth grader Amy Schwoch showed off her binder to Julia Peterson on the first day of school at Carlton High School in Carlton, Minn., Sept. 8. Students and staff were required to wear masks and maintain social distancing in classrooms and the halls. Carlton High started with full, in-person instruction in the first week before moving to a hybrid schedule. (Alex Kormann/Star Tribune via AP)

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.