Documenting America’s Path to Recovery: July 27th, 2020

Since our last edition

What is open in each state? For a continually updated article on reopening status in all 50 states, click here. For our last edition, click here.

  • Alabama (Republican trifecta): In a July 24 discussion with U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D), Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey said he expected about half of the state’s public school students to attend classes remotely in the fall.
  • Arizona (Republican trifecta): On July 24, the Arizona Department of Health Services released guidelines for gyms and fitness clubs to follow when allowed to reopen. Health Director Dr. Cara Christ said gyms were still required to remain closed until Gov. Doug Ducey (R) permits them to reopen.
  • Florida (Republican trifecta): On July 25, Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears tweeted that she would meet with breweries and bars across the state to discuss ideas for safely reopening those companies. They have been closed since June 26.
  • Indiana (Republican trifecta): Gov. Eric Holcomb’s (R) order is taking effect on July 27 requiring everyone 8 or older to wear a face mask in indoor public spaces, commercial businesses, transportation services, and in outdoor public spaces where social distancing is not possible. Students in third grade or higher, along with faculty and staff, must wear face masks in school.
  • Tennessee (Republican trifecta): On July 24, the Tennessee Board of Education reviewed waiver requests for the 2020-2021 school year in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The board denied requests from 60 districts to waive the requirement that districts offer at least two physical education classes a week for at least 60 minutes. The board granted waivers to 56 districts to eliminate duty-free lunch breaks for teachers in districts where students will use classrooms for lunch rather than cafeterias. The board also denied waivers seeking to increase the state’s maximum class size.
  • West Virginia (Republican trifecta): Gov. Jim Justice (R) issued an order allowing all public and private colleges and universities to reopen, effective July 24. The order allows schools to choose their own reopening dates.

Tracking industries: Face coverings

All 50 states are reopening in some way. Here, we give the status of one industry or activity across the states. Today’s question: in which states must you wear a face covering in public?

We last looked at face coverings in the July 20th edition of the newsletter. Since then, a mask mandate took effect in Indiana on July 27.

Featured school reopening plans: Arkansas and Illinois

This is an in-depth summary of two state plans to reopen public K-12 schools for the 2020-2021 school year.

Arkansas’ Ready for Learning

The Arkansas Department of Education released public school reopening guidance on June 5. According to the Arkansas Division of Elementary & Secondary Education (ADESE) guidance website, “with state support, districts will be able to create systems that adhere to components of Arkansas’s model.”

On March 15, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) ordered public schools to close from March 17 through March 27. Hutchinson extended the closure through April 17 on March 27 and closed schools for the remainder of the school year on April 6.

Public schools in Arkansas were initially set to reopen for the school year on Aug. 13. On July 9, Hutchinson delayed the start date until Aug. 24.


Arkansas is a Republican trifecta. The governor is a Republican, and Republicans hold majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The state became a Republican trifecta in 2015.

The following tables show public education statistics in Arkansas, including a rank comparing it to the other 49 states. Rank one is the highest number of each figure, rank 50 is the lowest. All data comes from the Common Core of Data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Arkansas public school metrics
Category Figure Rank
Per pupil spending (’16-’17) $11,395 39
Number of students (’18-’19) 491,804 33
Number of teachers (’16-17) 35,730 31
Number of public schools (’18-’19) 1,080 32
Student:teacher ratio (’18-’19) 13.0 41
Percent qualifying for free/reduced lunch (’16-’17) 63.6% 4
Arkansas public school revenue
Category Figure Rank
Total revenue $5,283,244,000 32
Percent from federal sources 11.5% 11
Percent from state sources 51.5% 22
Percent from local sources 37.0% 30


District reopening plans

Districts were required to submit plans for approval by ADESE before June 26. On or before Sept. 1, districts will post their plans to district websites. Each plan is required to:

  • Ensure the continuity of teaching and learning by providing a guaranteed and viable curriculum that includes blended learning (K-12) and diagnostic assessments (K-8);
  • Identify how they will address unfinished learning from the prior year by using the Arkansas Playbook: Addressing Unfinished Learning or district developed resources;
  • Utilize a Learning Management System;
  • Schedule teacher training for how to use the LMS;
  • Schedule teacher training for blended learning (delivery of instruction);
  • Use effective technology for parents and students; and
  • Provide a written communication plan for interacting with parents, students, and the community regarding day-to-day expectations.

In-person, hybrid, and online learning

Each district is required to offer what is referred to as Blended Learning and a remote learning option. Blended Learning is a traditional school day with on-site instruction that can transition to virtual learning in the event of a school closure. Remote learning is a fully virtual option with district teachers facilitating learning. Parents can decide between the two options.

According to the guidance, “funding through the state portion of the CARES Act will provide a full K-12 digital curriculum aligned to Arkansas Academic Standards to all students statewide in all public and non-public schools through a digital platform provided by the approved digital provider. Districts may choose to utilize the content on the digital provider’s platform or the content from any licensed platform already used by the district.”

Mask requirements

The guidance requires schools to follow the Arkansas Department of Health’s Face Coverings Directive issued July 18. It summarizes that directive’s effect on schools as follows:

With some exceptions, the Directive requires every person 10 years of age and older to wear a face covering completely over the mouth and nose in both indoor environments and outdoor settings when distancing of six feet or more cannot be assured. Although not required by the directive, face coverings are highly recommended for younger children. However, under no circumstance should a mask be placed on a child younger than 2 years of age.

In-person health recommendations and requirements

The guidance requires each district to consider the following daily school operations when creating a reopening plan:

  • Review facilities to determine how modifications can be made to accommodate as much physical distancing as possible, including repurposing unused spaces or modifying existing spaces to allow for maximum distancing of students/staff.
  • Suspend assemblies and other large group gatherings until ADH guidance allows for these types of gatherings.
  • Schedule restroom breaks to avoid congregating. Create a schedule to ensure disinfecting of frequently touched areas such as light switches, faucet levers, paper towel dispensers, and flush levers.
  • Consider suspending the use of water fountains and plan for alternative hydration stations (e .g . bottled water, disposable water cups/cones, bottle filling stations) if feasible.
  • Establish drop-off and pickup to limit close contact between parents and staff members
  • Limit group activities and interaction between classes. Stagger class dismissals in middle and high schools.
  • Consider rotating teachers rather than students.
  • Determine how to prohibit congregation in hallways and cafeterias.
  • Post signage at entrances and throughout buildings with the latest health guidance.
  • Review teacher and student schedules.
  • Consider alternatives for holding areas for large groups of students before and after school.
  • Re-Entry Guidance document will be updated as information becomes available.
  • Ability to quickly move between different modes of instructional delivery.

Transportation and busing requirements and restrictions

The guidance provides the following requirements and recommendations for transportation:

  • Drivers must wear a face covering or mask (including cloth face covering) at all times. Districts may need to make special accommodations on mask type for drivers as needed.
  • Students should utilize district-provided hand sanitizer at the service door of each bus in the morning and before they enter the bus each afternoon.
  • Adding additional bus stops is recommended to reduce the number of students being picked up at one place.
  • Students should maintain a distance of 6 feet apart while waiting on the bus to arrive.

Illinois’ Starting the 2020-21 School Year

The Illinois State Board of Education released its school reopening guidance on June 23. The plan’s introduction says, “No amount of technology can replicate the effect of face-to-face interactions and instruction between teachers and students. This Part Three document endeavors to guide schools and districts in transitioning back to in-person learning, while holding paramount the health and safety of students and communities.”

Illinois does not have an official date for public schools to reopen, but schools have been allowed to reopen in-person operations since the state entered Phase 3 of its economic and social reopening plan on May 29. According to EdWeek, public schools in Illinois traditionally start the academic year between mid-August and early September, with the exact start date varying by district.

On March 13, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) closed public schools through the end of March. The closure was extended on March 20 and again on March 31. Pritzker ended the public school year on April 9.


Illinois is a Democratic trifecta. The governor is a Democrat, and Democrats hold majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The state became a Democratic trifecta in 2019.

The following tables show public education statistics in Illinois, including a rank comparing it to the other 49 states. Rank one is the highest number of each figure, rank 50 is the lowest. All data comes from the Common Core of Data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Illinois public school metrics
Category Figure Rank
Per pupil spending (’16-’17) $17,066 10
Number of students (’18-’19) 1,966,209 5
Number of teachers (’16-17) 128,893 5
Number of public schools (’18-’19) 4,345 4
Student:teacher ratio (’18-’19) 15.0 24
Percent qualifying for free/reduced lunch (’16-’17) 50.2% 20
Illinois public school revenue
Category Figure Rank
Total revenue $27,304,004,000 6
Percent from federal sources 8.3% 29
Percent from state sources 24.9% 50
Percent from local sources 66.8% 1


District reopening plans

School districts are required to develop and publicly post a Remote Learning Days and Blended Remote Learning Day Plan, which the district superintendent must approve. The plans must address the following:

  1. Accessibility of the remote instruction to all students enrolled in the district;
  2. When applicable, a requirement that the Remote Learning Day and Blended Remote Learning Day activities reflect the Illinois Learning Standards;
  3. Means for students to confer with an educator, as necessary;
  4. The unique needs of students in special populations, including, but not limited to, students eligible for special education under Article 14; students who are English Learners, as defined in Section 14C-2; students experiencing homelessness under the Education for Homeless Children Act [105 ILCS 45]; or vulnerable student populations;
  5. How the district will take attendance and monitor and verify each student’s remote participation; and
  6. Transitions from remote learning to on-site learning upon the State Superintendent’s declaration that Remote Learning Days and Blended Remote Learning Days are no longer deemed necessary.

In-person, hybrid, and online learning

In-person operations at schools are encouraged to resume in Phase 4 regions with precautions to allow for social distancing. Schools and districts are allowed to use hybrid schedules and online integration as necessary. According to the plan, “Data and feedback should be analyzed through an equity lens to determine what student groups may need greater supports to meet high standards in a Remote or Blended Remote Learning environment.”

Mask requirements

All individuals older than the age of two who can safely do so must wear a mask in public and nonpublic school buildings. According to the plan, “Face coverings must be worn at all times in school buildings even when social distancing is maintained. Face coverings do not need to be worn outside if social distance is maintained. It is recommended that schools require physicians notes for students and staff who are not able to wear a face covering due to trouble breathing. It is recommended that schools and districts update policies to require the wearing a face covering while on school grounds and handle violations in the same manner as other policy violations.”

In-person health recommendations and requirements

In-person instruction was permitted in Phase 3 and the state encourages it in Phase 4, in compliance with the following requirements for public and private schools:

  • Require use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including face coverings;
  • Prohibit more than 50 individuals from gathering in one space;
  • Require social distancing be observed, as much as possible;
  • Require that schools conduct symptom screenings and temperature checks or require that individuals self-certify that they are free of symptoms before entering school buildings; and
  • Require an increase in schoolwide cleaning and disinfection.

For more information on health protocols, click here (page 30).

Transportation and busing requirements and restrictions

Illinois’ plan contains the following requirements for student transportation:

  • All individuals on a bus or van must wear a face covering.
  • No more than 50 people are allowed on a bus in Phase 4.
  • Drivers and students must undergo symptom and temperature checks before boarding.

Illinois’ plan also says buses should be disinfected at least daily. It also recommends districts implement visual guides (such as tape or decals specifying where students can and cannot sit) and assigned seating charts.

Additional activity

In this section, we feature examples of other federal, state, and local government activity, as well as influencers relevant to recovering from the pandemic. 

  • On July 24, Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop announced that the school district would begin the year under its high-risk scenario for school operations, meaning students would start the year with virtual learning.
  • On July 24, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a Nevada church’s request for permission to hold in-person services larger than those allowed under Gov. Steve Sisolak’s executive order. The court split 5-4 in the decision. In its emergency application to the court, the church asked for an injunction pending appellate review that would bar enforcement of Directive 021. An injunction would “allow the church to host religious gatherings on the same terms as comparable secular assemblies.” At issue in the case was the church’s argument that the capacity limit violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment in that it “treats at least seven categories of secular assemblies ‘where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time’ better than religious services.” The directive, which imposes a 50% fire-code capacity limit on places of business, such as casinos, restaurants, and movie theaters, limits gatherings at places of worship to a 50-person maximum. The majority did not comment, a common practice when acting on emergency applications. In a dissent, Justice Samuel Alito wrote the state’s argument that “allowing Calvary Chapel to admit 90 worshippers presents a greater public health risk than allowing casinos to operate at 50% capacity is hard to swallow.” Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh joined Alito’s dissent. Justice Neil Gorsuch and Kavanaugh each wrote separate dissents.