Wed. Oct 21st, 2020

'When do we go back to school?' is the biggest question on the minds of students, teachers and parents in 2020, according to each of the groups we talked to.

There's no one easy answer, either, with varying dates for each country, region and even school district. Many are planning a late September back to school date, while others down the street have decided to postpone in-person learning until 2021. A few schools went back in August only to shut down again.

You're not alone in thinking it's become unpredictable – the Covid-19 pandemic has upended the 2020-2021 academic schedule. Sorry kids, school won't be cancelled, as distanced learning online will take place for many districts, though most students and parents we talked to said they're eager for in-person classes to resume.

Here are the most popular back to school dates, from the districts and parents we talked to in Pennsylvania, California and New York.

End of September

Some US schools are already back in session as of mid-August, but even in a typical year a majority of colleges, high schools, middle schools and elementary schools won't return until after Labor Day, which is Monday, September 7 this year.

Now, many schools are delaying reopening and missing the post-Labor Day weekend window by a long shot. We talked to a number of public school districts that have voted to postpone the start of their school year to the end of September.

We're told the thinking of is this: all of the public and private schools that plan to reopen in early September may dictate whether or not the late September schools actually go through with their reopening plan. It's a wait, watch and see approach.

If Covid-19 cases surge in those schools that resume classes the earliest, there's a chance reopening could be delayed or, at the very least, prevention measures may be adjusted in the late September schools. 

There's a critical window in which school administrators will be evaluating what happens at those early September schools throughout the US.

When do we go back to Back to school 2020 student with mask boarding a yellow bus

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Alternating in-person school days

Some schools are returning in September and October, but splitting up the amount of students who can enter the school building at any one time. This makes staying six feet apart easier, preventing what we saw in a packed Georgia school hallway.

Districts we talked to have laid out a plan to have half of their normal amount of students go back to school on Monday and Tuesday, and the other half attend the in-person classes on Thursday and Friday. Which days students go back is based on their names (last names, so that families can go in to classes at the same time). 

Wednesday would act as a cleaning day, allowing schools officials to decontaminate classrooms over the course of a little over 24 hours. Distanced learning will happen on Wednesday and the days in which students won't attend in-person.

2021 school start

The third popular option we're seeing is to continue distanced learning throughout 2020, with plans to return to in-person learning in January of 2021. That would put these students out of the classroom for almost an entire year by that point.

This is clearly one of the safest options for teachers, students and the parents and grandparents those students come home to. But the problem is that not all districts have the ability to foster a rich learning environment from students homes.

As we saw at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, obtaining the free student meals that many rely on will continue to face hurdles. And even when affordability isn't a problem, supply is: we saw demand spike in the first half of the year for the best laptops and people desperately trying to find webcams in stock.

When do we go back to school 2020 teacher with students

(Image credit: Shutterstock.com / Jacob Lund)

When will we go back to school: conclusions

There are so many moving parts to back to school 2020, and school districts seem to be adjusting their plans as new Covid-19 data comes in, formidable teachers unions raise their voices, and more parents have their say.

While the three back to school dates above are the most popular from the people we talked to, the plans for when we go back to school are not set in stone by any means. Likewise, our usual cavalcade of back to school content has been transformed, and could shift again for all we know.

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