Disparities in Learning Mode Access Among K-12 Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic, by Race/Ethnicity, Geography, and Grade Level - United States, September 2020-April 2021.MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021 Jul 02; 70(26):953-958.MM
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across the United States began transitioning to virtual learning during spring 2020. However, schools' learning modes varied during the 2020-21 school year across states as schools transitioned at differing times back to in-person learning, in part reflecting updated CDC guidance. Reduced access to in-person learning is associated with poorer learning outcomes and adverse mental health and behavioral effects in children (1-3). Data on the learning modes available in 1,200 U.S. public school districts (representing 46% of kindergarten through grade 12 [K-12] public school enrollment) from all 50 states and the District of Columbia during September 2020-April 2021 were matched with National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) demographic data. Learning mode access was assessed for K-12 students during the COVID-19 pandemic, over time and by student race/ethnicity, geography, and grade level group. Across all assessed racial/ethnic groups, prevalence of virtual-only learning showed more variability during September-December 2020 but declined steadily from January to April 2021. During January-April 2021, access to full-time in-person learning for non-Hispanic White students increased by 36.6 percentage points (from 38.0% to 74.6%), compared with 31.1 percentage points for non-Hispanic Black students (from 32.3% to 63.4%), 23.0 percentage points for Hispanic students (from 35.9% to 58.9%) and 30.6 percentage points for students of other races/ethnicities (from 26.3% to 56.9%). In January 2021, 39% of students in grades K-5 had access to full-time in-person learning compared with 33% of students in grades 6-8 and 30% of students in grades 9-12. Disparities in full-time in-person learning by race/ethnicity existed across school levels and by geographic region and state. These disparities underscore the importance of prioritizing equitable access to this learning mode for the 2021-22 school year. To increase equitable access to full-time in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year, school leaders should focus on providing safety-optimized in-person learning options across grade levels. CDC's K-12 operational strategy presents a pathway for schools to safely provide in-person learning through implementing recommended prevention strategies, increasing vaccination rates for teachers and older students with a focus on vaccine equity, and reducing community transmission (4).