This Week in COVID & Education Policy: Surge in School Closures Hits Over 700 Districts, Doubts About Safety Fuel Parent Vaccine Hesitancy and More

This is our regular update on how the pandemic is impacting schools and education policy. The information provided has been verified by John Bailey, a visiting fellow at AEI. If you want to access previous updates, click here. You can also subscribe to Newsletter to receive this weekly roundup and daily updates directly in your inbox.

Significant Increase in School Closures and Disruptions Affects Over 700 Districts: According to Burbio’s report, there has been a surge in the number of school closures impacting 769 districts compared to 675 in the previous week. This represents the largest week-over-week increase in districts since September.

The total number of schools affected has now reached 7,001, rising from 3,224 last week. Burbio’s report indicates that 3,777 schools have been affected since their last update, which surpasses the combined total of previous reports.

Burbio has also identified 65 mental health closures that have impacted 2,535 schools. These closures are primarily concentrated in specific states, including North Carolina (30 districts, 1,402 schools), Virginia (9 districts, 262 schools), Missouri (6 districts, 75 schools), Colorado (2 districts, 263 schools), Ohio (4 districts, 189 schools), and Oregon (4 districts, 106 schools). These states account for 55 of the 65 identified districts and 2,297 of the 2,535 affected schools.

Disruptions in the 2021-22 School Year (Burbio): November 19, 2021 – The Key Details

How U.S. Schools are Utilizing $122 Billion in Stimulus Funds: Bloomberg provides an analysis of spending plans from approximately 1,040 school districts across 35 states. These plans highlight how education officials are addressing challenges related to learning loss, mental health, staffing shortages, and equity concerns resulting from years of remote learning and classroom disruptions. Burbio has collected this data, which sheds light on the shutdowns experienced during the pandemic.

The surveyed districts, ranging in enrollment from a few hundred students to 350,000, collectively received over $29 billion, accounting for a quarter of the national allocation. More than 50% of these districts have allocated funds for summer learning, with an average expenditure exceeding $2 million for those specified. Additionally, approximately one-third of the districts are utilizing funds for transportation expenses, and nearly one-quarter plan to invest in online learning platforms. Notably, over $260 million has been set aside for student mobile devices, $218 million for assessments, and $207 million for essential supplies like masks, wipes, and gloves.

First-grader Rihanna Chihuaque, aged 7, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at Arturo Velasquez Institute on November 12, 2021, in Chicago. (Getty Images)

Doubts about Safety and Efficacy Influence Parental Vaccine Hesitancy: Findings from an ABC News-Washington Post poll reveal that only 46% of adults with a child aged 5 to 17 at home express confidence in the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine for that age group.

The poll indicates that twice as many parents lack confidence in the vaccine’s safety for children aged 5 to 17 compared to those who are very confident. Specifically, 41% of parents lack confidence, while only 21% are highly confident. The gap is smaller when it comes to effectiveness, but still significant, with 38% expressing doubts and 26% having strong confidence. Racial or ethnic minority parents have higher levels of confidence in vaccine safety compared to their white counterparts, but this gap diminishes concerning effectiveness.

For further insight, read article on the anticipated increase in vaccine hesitancy given that nearly half of parents may choose not to vaccinate their children against COVID-19.

We Surveyed Children About the Pandemic, and Their Responses were Surprisingly Positive: FiveThirtyEight, in collaboration with Ipsos, conducted a survey using Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel to gather responses from 689 children aged 5 to 11, 572 teenagers aged 12 to 17, and more than 1,500 parents between October 25 and November 2.

The survey reveals that a large majority of teenagers describe their home life (95%), relationship with their parents (94%), mental health (90%), social life (89%), and sense of connection to others (86%) as good. Similarly, 96% of children aged 5 to 11 report feeling good at present.

Regarding academic concerns, 25% of teenagers aged 12 to 17 express worries about their ability to perform well in school, a notable increase from the pre-COVID period when only 17% shared such concerns.

Furthermore, 57% of surveyed teenagers have received the COVID-19 vaccine, while an additional 5% would choose to get vaccinated if given the opportunity. Among unvaccinated teenagers who are unlikely to get the vaccine, the top reason for hesitancy is the lack of testing (45%), followed by parental influence (27%), and concerns about safety (25%).

Federal Updates

The president has also issued a directive creating an Infrastructure Implementation Task Force.

Former Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans has been appointed as a senior advisor and coordinator for infrastructure.

This includes a funding package of over $65 billion for broadband expansion, aimed at providing better access to underserved communities and linking various institutions, such as schools.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, along with the Department of Education, has posted a letter urging principals to organize vaccine clinics at schools and provide families with information about vaccines. The American Academy of Pediatrics is also offering its assistance by allowing pediatricians to speak at community events about the COVID-19 vaccine. Requests can be made by emailing

The Government Accountability Office has found that the Education Department needs to update its plans for addressing cyberattacks on schools. With the increasing online threats, including ransomware, denial-of-service attacks, email scams, and disruptions to virtual learning environments caused by the pandemic, the Education Department, as the lead agency for the education sector, is responsible for setting IT and cybersecurity guidelines for K-12 schools. However, it has not updated its planning documents since 2010. The GAO emphasizes that without an up-to-date plan and federal support, K-12 schools are at a higher risk of cyberattacks.

The investigation into K-12 cybersecurity was initiated by Sens. Maggie Hassan, Kyrsten Sinema, and Jacky Rosen after a hearing in which they raised concerns about ransomware attacks targeting schools in their respective states.

The Department of Education has released a new resource detailing how funds from the American Rescue Plan can be utilized for student transportation.

In Arizona, there are efforts to modernize school transportation to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

Mayor London Breed of San Francisco supports the recall of three school board members, prioritizing the well-being of the students.

A lawsuit challenging California’s school mask mandate was dismissed by a judge in San Diego County, stating that Gov. Gavin Newsom has the legal authority to enforce universal masking.

Due to staffing shortages, Denver has either canceled classes or shifted to remote learning in some schools.

Indiana has launched a new program to address the shortage of special education teachers.

Missouri has invested $50 million over the next three years in and other recruitment initiatives to attract and train teachers.

New York City is implementing vaccine clinics at all its elementary schools to ensure students’ safety and well-being.

A report reveals that nearly 1 in 10 public school students in NYC were homeless during the last school year.

According to a survey by Cincinnati Public Schools, 66% of parents do not support a vaccine mandate for students.

A judge has upheld Rhode Island’s school mask mandate.

A new law in Tennessee imposes stricter limitations on mandates.

After a federal judge overruled Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban, Texas schools can now establish their own face mask rules.

A research paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research examines whether federal COVID relief funds for schools were sufficient. It suggests that while low-poverty and some moderate-poverty districts may face funding shortages, state and local governments are in a good fiscal position to provide assistance. High-poverty and some moderate-poverty districts, on the other hand, may receive substantial funding, which may exceed the needs of students.

To keep students in class, many schools are adopting more COVID-19 testing methods instead of resorting to quarantine measures. This approach has been seen as a relief by school administrators and staff, providing them with an alternative option.

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Education and Labor Committee Republican Leader, Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), and Representative Chris Jacobs (R-N.Y.) have urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide guidance on implementing a test-to-stay option for unvaccinated students who have been exposed to COVID-19.

If Republicans oppose vaccines for children, it will have negative consequences for their schools. Last year, Republicans successfully kept schools open during the pandemic, providing more in-person learning options for students in red states and districts. The current question is whether vaccinations will effectively protect students and limit the spread of COVID-19 in schools. If Republicans disproportionately oppose vaccinations for school-aged children, as polls suggest, their students and schools are likely to suffer.

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Bristol has found that children are equally tolerant of parents performing the nose swabbing technique for detecting respiratory infections. The study reveals that nose swab samples collected by parents are as reliable as those collected by nurses.

STAT surveyed 28 public health experts about their holiday plans amid COVID-19, and the responses varied.

A COVID-19 detector named Poppy, featured by Fast Company, has the ability to detect the Delta variant in the air. Designed like an everyday smoke detector, Poppy provides results through a simple online dashboard, often delivered the same day or the next morning. Additionally, Poppy can identify 1,000 other pathogens in the air, such as the seasonal flu, at an additional cost and turnaround time of three days.

An investigative report by Axios reveals that school districts and universities have invested up to $100 million in HVAC and air filtration systems, including misleading electronic air cleaning systems that claim 99.99% efficacy. Marwa Zaatari, a mechanical engineer and board member of the U.S. Green Building Council, highlights the false claims in company-funded studies.

A new paper published in Nature shows that more than half of unvaccinated individuals are not willing to change their minds about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. In Dallas, 19% of residents have no intention of getting vaccinated, with over half of them stating that nothing can change their minds. Nationally, 21.4% of respondents expressed unwillingness to get vaccinated.

While the U.S. is actively vaccinating children against COVID-19, some countries are adopting a more cautious approach, as reported by WSJ.

The Vaccine Makers Project has released an interesting video explaining how COVID vaccines work.

The FDA is set to make a decision on booster eligibility without consulting its panel of outside experts, according to Roll Call.

Moderna has submitted an application for Emergency Use Authorization of their COVID-19 booster to the FDA.

A new study confirms that it is safe to receive both a flu shot and the COVID vaccine.

Stat has listed 8 lingering questions about the new COVID pills from Merck and Pfizer.

As children receive COVID-19 shots, schools are changing their mask policies, as reported by WSJ.

Op-ed by former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings discusses how COVID-19 has created a divide between parents and schools in Texas. A poll conducted by Texas 2036 revealed that parents have concerns about the handling of the pandemic by schools, with many describing online learning as a disappointment or failure. The op-ed emphasizes the need for a transparent accountability system and immediate improvements to support student achievement.

"A rigid system that was designed for uniformity crumbled under the weight of a crisis. Despite the efforts of many well-intentioned individuals, schools and school systems largely failed to meet the unique needs of each student. Children who were already struggling faced even more challenges."

"Suburban families, who had previously enjoyed a smooth functioning of services and personalized support, were astonished to witness the impact of union politics and outdated management systems. However, low-income families, students with complex learning needs, and those with disabilities were not surprised by these difficulties."

"It is now time for a new and inclusive reform coalition that brings together all those who witnessed the flaws in the American education system during the pandemic – doctors, mental health professionals, church leaders, after-school program providers, community activists, suburban parents, parents of children with disabilities, and business leaders. Advocates for children should lead the way by uniting despite their differences."

Here are some statistics about the use of educational technology in public schools, according to a 2019-20 report by the Institute of Education Sciences. Please note that these numbers are pre-pandemic, and the current figures are expected to be higher:

– 45% of schools reported having a computer for each student.

– 15% of schools allowed all students to take computers home, while another 15% permitted short-term computer loan programs.

– 64% of schools claimed to have very reliable internet connections in teaching and learning areas.

– 52% of schools experienced small issues with internet connections or speed when a large number of students were online.

– 35% of schools stated that technology helped students learn at their own pace.

In an article from The New York Times, David Leonhardt discusses how the COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to end definitively and compares the risks of the virus to other risks we face in everyday life. Dr. Robert Wachter of the University of California, San Francisco, suggests that he may continue wearing a mask while grocery shopping or flying due to the minimal costs of doing so in those settings, as it can provide protection against various respiratory viruses. However, the costs of many other COVID-19 interventions are higher, such as the inhibition of communication caused by masks, the failure of remote schooling, the hindrance of collaboration in remote office work, and the mental health problems caused by social isolation.

Jenin Younes argues in The Wall Street Journal that mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for children is unlawful.

With the aid of COVID-19 relief funds, schools are taking on a greater role in addressing students’ mental health, as reported by Chalkbeat.

According to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, learning pod teachers express their reluctance to return to traditional classrooms.

Due to a wave of teacher absences, districts facing a shortage of substitute teachers have been forced to cancel school, as reported by .

Substitute teachers, who have traditionally not received much respect, are now in high demand, according to The New York Times.

"Measuring Forward: Emerging Trends in K-12 Assessment Innovation" is an insightful analysis by Knowledge Works that provides state-by-state information on the subject.

In an article for the Fordham Institute, Sheldon Berman and Linda Darling-Hammond delve into the topic of effectively communicating the concept of "learning" in social-emotional learning.

The Center for Democracy and Technology has released a new set of resources aiming to ensure equitable and trustworthy educational technology for the future.

According to a census report, families are utilizing the new child tax credit to cover K-12 school expenses, with 40% of low-income recipients stating that they spent the money on tuition, books, tutoring, or other educational costs.

The Walton Family Foundation has appointed Romy Drucker as the director of their K-12 education program.

On a lighter note, a new PR campaign for possums has been launched, which has gained unexpected interest and admiration for its extensive knowledge about these creatures.

For more education news updates, here are the top five stories from that you might have missed:

1. School staffing shortages during the pandemic have disproportionately affected high-poverty districts.

Understanding Data: Exploring the Abundance of Education Data and Its Potential Misleading Nature. Here Are 6 Key Inquiries to Consider

Concealing: Amidst the Vaccination of Children, Teachers and Parents in NYC Present Arguments For and Against Relaxing School Regulations

Homecoming: Introducing the Accomplished Adolescents Who Have Been Crowned the 2021 High School Royalty

Transparency: John Bailey advises the Walton Family Foundation, a prominent financial supporter of . Additionally, Romy Drucker is a co-founder of and holds a position on our board of directors.

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  • benjaminchambers

    Benjamin Chambers is an educator and blogger who focuses on using technology in the classroom. He has written for sites like The Huffington Post and The EdTech Digest, and has been featured in outlets like Forbes and The New York Times. Chambers' work has helped him to develop a following of educators and students who appreciate his down-to-earth approach to learning technology.