The plan to reopen US schools has shifted several times throughout the summer as coronavirus cases have surged.
Many major school districts are refusing to reopen, some even defying state guidelines, until coronavirus cases begin to drop. For those offering hybrid learning, or some in-person, some online classes, parents usually have the option to opt out and enroll their child in all online classes for the rest of the school year.
The plans below could change again based on ever-changing pandemic trends. Here’s what some of the US’ largest school districts are planning when schools resume classes.
Virtual learning only
Start dates for the fall semester are quickly approaching. With the amount of new coronavirus cases in states such as Texas and California not letting down, a number of major US school districts are choosing to play it safe by beginning the school year with no in-person classes and only virtual learning.
Just as we saw nationwide at the end of this past school year, virtual learning would require children to stay at home and attend classes online with a computer. Whether through Zoom or some other video calling app, students would be able to see their instructors and classmates. But without a teacher being physically present, a lot of the responsibility to keep the student engaged would fall on the parents.
Here are the school districts that will start classes in the fall only through virtual learning:
Los Angeles (start date: August 18)
The Los Angeles Unified School District won’t begin the school year with in-person classes, LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner said this week. The school district is the second-largest in the US, with over 600,000 students.
Beutner didn’t confirm when schools will reopen or transition to some in-school instruction with some at-home instruction. The LAUSD will release final plans during the first week in August, he said.
“Our commitment to students and their families is to provide the best possible education in the classroom — whether online or at school,” he said.
In the mixed model of remote and in-person learning, teachers would offer tutoring after school and on weekends to “help students make up for lost time,” Beutner said.
Atlanta (start date: August 24)
Atlanta public schools will start the first nine weeks of the school year online, and the first day of school will be pushed back two weeks to August 24.
Cobb County, the second-largest school system in Georgia and includes part of Atlanta, will begin the school year remotely, too on August 17. Cobb County School District Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said he’s “not setting a timeline for how long students will engage in virtual learning.”
Dallas (start date: August, date tbd)
Public and private schools in Dallas cannot reopen for in-person instruction until after September 8, Dallas County’s Health and Human Services Department ordered. Schools must conduct classes virtually before that time. Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa previously expressed doubt that the district could reopen by its proposed August 17 start date.
Houston (start date: Sept. 8)
The Houston Independent School District will begin the school year virtually on September 8 with all-online instruction for six weeks before in-person instruction is planned to begin on October 19.
The city changed its guidelines after significant upticks in coronavirus cases in the area. It was tentatively planning to reopen in August with a hybrid learning model.
Beginning on August 24, parents can opt out of in-person instruction for the fall semester past October 19.
Parents must decide
Both parents and teachers have expressed their frustrations of having their students learn from home. And those struggles are especially amplified when it comes to those with special needs or others who are used to interventions that depend on hands-on instruction.
Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has advocated for students to be physically present in classrooms, saying evidence shows the academic, mental and physical benefits of in-person learning outweigh the risks from the coronavirus.
Knowing the importance of in-person classes, some school districts are putting the decision into the hands of parents to choose whether they’d like their child learning at school or virtually at home.
Here are the school districts asking parents to decide:
New York (start date: September, day tbd)
The City School District of the City of New York, the largest district in the country, plans to use a “blended learning model” for student who opt in. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said most students will be in school two or three days a week, and the “optimum” class size will be nine to 12 students per classroom, with social distancing requirements in place.
Families who would rather their child take online-only classes have until August 7 to submit their choice.
“We know that we cannot maintain proper physical distancing and have 100% of our students in school buildings 5 days a week, it’s just geographically, physically not possible,” New York Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said. “Health and safety requires us to have fewer students in the building at the same time.”
Chicago (Sept. 8)
Chicago Public Schools proposed a “hybrid learning model” that has most students learning from home and attending school a limited number of days a week as long as public health officials sign off. The district serves 355,000 students and is the third-largest in the country.
The plan allows for around 50% of the student population to attend school in-person on any given day, and students will be placed in pods of around 15 children to minimize exposure to others. Each pod will spend the same two days at school each week, then the same two days learning from home and then every Wednesday participate in “real-time virtual instruction” with their classroom teacher, according to the proposal.
Parents can opt out of in-person instruction and choose full-time virtual learning instead, the district said.
Most high school juniors and seniors will take classes online full time, per CPS’ plan. Juniors and seniors who need “additional academic or social and emotional support” are encouraged to attend school in-person, though.
Students, faculty and staff in schools will be required to wear face masks, which will be provided to them by schools, and submit to daily temperature checks.
Miami-Dade County (start date: August 24)
Despite Gov. Ron DeSantis’ vow to reopen state schools for in-person instruction, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said schools would only reopen if the county saw a coronavirus positivity rate under 10%. The county’s coronavirus positivity rate last week was over 33%, and it’s still in Phase 1 of its reopening plan.
As the district prepares, it has called on parents and guardians to decide how they want their students to return to school: either in-person, through a blended model, or strictly online. Those decisions must be submitted to the district by July 15.
Carvalho told CNN that the county reached “100% connectivity” so every student could have internet access for distance learning.
New Orleans (start date: August, date tbd)
New Orleans schools will open with a hybrid model but prioritize in-person learning for pre-K through fourth graders, NOLA Public Schools said in its reopening plan.
Parents who aren’t comfortable with in-person or hybrid learning can opt to learn from home for the school year.
Greenville County, South Carolina (start date: August 24)
Greenville County Schools, the largest district in South Carolina with about 80,000 students, submitted a plan that’s flexible for in-person attendance depending on coronavirus spread rates. The plan would allow parents to either send their child to school up to a few days per week or more, except when the danger of spread is high. The other option: students learn at home for 100% online learning all year. About 10,000 students enrolled for the county’s virtual school ahead of the July 27 sign up deadline.
In the event of a “high” rate of spread, as defined by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, there may be a need to slide to zero days of in-person attendance.
In the case of “low” spread, the district may move toward the goal of five days of in-person instruction per week.