For millions of American schoolchildren, particularly in the Northeast, the Tuesday after Labor Day traditionally marks the end of summer vacation and a return to their classrooms. But this year, instead of boarding buses and lugging backpacks, most of those students are opening their laptops at home as schools commence the fall term virtually amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Classes started Tuesday in some of the nation’s largest districts, including Chicago, Houston, Dallas and Baltimore, along with many suburbs of Washington, D.C. But almost all began the year remotely, with some still hoping to hold classes in-person several weeks from now.
In New York City, the nation’s largest district, teachers and staff members returned to schools on Tuesday, but the city’s 1.1 million students won’t arrive until Sept. 21 — 10 days later than initially planned. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the shift a week ago after many educators said classrooms would not be ready to reopen this week.
In other parts of the country, including several states in the South and Midwest, schools have been open for more than a month now, resulting in a series of student quarantines and temporary shutdowns in some districts. Others seem to have reopened without major outbreaks — although reporting is uneven, making cases difficult to track.
While some educators spent the summer break seeking improved online instruction, concerns have grown over the academic impact of the pandemic, which has widened racial and economic achievement gaps. In Texas, more than 100,000 children never participated in remote learning assignments last spring, according to an analysis of state data by The Dallas Morning News, and 19,000 students dropped out of contact with teachers entirely.
Several large districts in Texas that opened remotely on Tuesday have said they plan to shift to some form of in-person instruction in the coming months, if case numbers allow.