Documenting America’s Path to Recovery: August 11, 2020

Each day, we:

  • Track the status of reopening in all 50 states.
  • Compare the status of one industry or activity across the country.
  • Answer key questions about state school reopening plans.
  • Give you the latest stories on other reopening plans and ideas.

Want to know what happened yesterday? Click here.

We’ll complete our summaries of all 50 state public school reopening plans on Aug. 17. What do you think we should cover next? What topics do you want more information about—or less? Or do you think there’s something we should look at once again? We want to know what you think! Simply reply to this email with your suggestions and comments. We look forward to hearing from you!

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.

  • Arizona (Republican trifecta): Gov. Doug Ducey (R) released guidelines from the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) for reopening businesses that are currently not allowed to reopen. The guidelines apply to gyms, theaters, water parks, tubing, bars, and nightclubs. The guidelines use a red, yellow, and green benchmark system based on county coronavirus figures. The ADHS recommended that current restrictions be kept in place for now, but provided the guidelines to help businesses and industry decide when to reopen once the state rescinds its restrictions.
  • Kentucky (divided government): Gov. Andy Beshear (D) requested that school districts not offer in-person instruction until at least Sept. 28, and instead begin the school year with virtual learning.
  • Massachusetts (divided government): Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said schools in 285 of the state’s 318 communities should be able to reopen for at least some in-person instruction in the fall. Baker said he felt confident in reopening schools based on coronavirus statistics in those communities.
  • New Jersey (Democratic trifecta): At a news conference on Monday, Aug. 10, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said it was still too risky to allow indoor dining across the state, citing a study that looked at the spread of the virus in a restaurant in China.
  • Washington (Democratic trifecta): On Aug. 10, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) released updated guidance for religious and faith-based organizations. In counties in Phase 1 of reopening, organizations can hold outdoor services with up to 100 people. In counties in Phase 2, up to 200 people can gather for outdoor services, and up to 200 people or 25% of the room’s capacity (whichever is less) can gather indoors. In counties in Phase 3, indoor services can accommodate up to 50 percent of the room’s capacity or 400 people, while up to 400 people can gather for outdoor services.
  • Connecticut, New Jersey, New York (Democratic trifectas): Govs. Ned Lamont (D-Conn.), Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), and Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced that Hawaii, South Dakota, and the Virgin Islands had been added to the tristate quarantine list. The governors removed Alaska, New Mexico, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

Tracking industries: Indoor gathering limits

All 50 states are reopening in some way. Here, we give the status of one industry or activity across the states. Today’s question: what is the indoor gathering size limit in each state?

We last looked at indoor gathering size limits in the August 4th edition of the newsletter. Since then, South Carolina instituted an indoor gathering size limit of 250 individuals.

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

New Jersey’s The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education

On June 26, Governor Phil Murphy and Department of Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet released The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education, the state’s guidelines for reopening public schools for in-person instruction in the fall.

Commissioner Repollet said, “New Jersey educators and families did an amazing job over the past three months implementing remote learning, even with relatively little time for planning. That effort was nothing short of heroic. However, too many parents feel that remote-only instruction isn’t working for their child, and too many children are falling behind. It is becoming abundantly clear that children need to return to a school environment in some capacity, and we need to do so safely. This is a matter of educational growth, and it’s a matter of equity.”

In July, Murphy issued additional guidelines, clarifying that each district was required to offer remote-only options for instruction and that each district would be responsible for designing and implementing its plan for remote learning.

Several teachers’ unions in the state, including those in Paterson and Essex County, have called for public school openings to be delayed for in-person instruction. The New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association has also called for statewide remote instruction to start the school year.

There is no statewide date for schools to begin instruction in New Jersey; each district sets its own specific start date. According to Ed Week, public schools in New Jersey typically start the academic year in late August to early September, with specific dates varying by district.

Schools in New Jersey were closed for in-person instruction on March 18, 2020, and remained closed for the remainder of the year.


New Jersey is a Democratic trifecta. The governor is a Democrat, and Democrats have majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The state became a Democratic trifecta in 2018.

The following tables show public education statistics in New Jersey, 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.

New Jersey public school metrics
Category Figure 50-state rank
Per pupil spending (’16-’17) $21,156 3
Number of students (’18-’19) 1,365,642 11
Number of teachers (’16-17) 115,729 7
Number of public schools (’18-’19) 2,573 10
Student:teacher ratio (’18-’19) 12.1 47
Percent qualifying for free/reduced lunch (’16-’17) 37.9% 43
New Jersey public school revenue
Category Figure 50-state rank
Total revenue $28,489,659,000 5
Percent from federal sources 4.2% 49
Percent from state sources 42.1% 35
Percent from local sources 53.7% 11


District reopening plans

Districts are required to develop and submit their own specific plans that meet or exceed the state’s reopening guidelines. Districts are encouraged to share their reopening plans with the public at least four weeks before the beginning of the school year.

In-person, hybrid, and online learning

New Jersey’s reopening guidelines specify that districts must account for resuming in-person instruction in their reopening plans. The guidance Murphy issued in July specified that each district should also offer students an option for fully remote instruction. Each district determines its schedules. The state’s reopening guidelines offer some models for in-person, hybrid, and online learning:

Systems which support in-person, fully virtual and hybrid learning should serve as the foundation for the development of a strategic plan for delivering instruction to students in alignment with the following core guiding principles:

  • Lead with the health, safety, and wellness of students and staff as the top priority.
  • Maintain the continuity of learning.
  • Facilitate equity and ease of access to communications and resources.
  • Flexibly accommodate the needs and varying circumstances of all learners.
  • Incorporate educators, students, parents, and school boards and other community members in the local community into entire analysis and planning cycle.

Mask requirements

Educators, staff members, and visitors will be required to wear a mask or face covering throughout the day unless they are unable due to a health reason. Students are required to wear a face covering when they cannot maintain six feet of distance and are encouraged to wear masks throughout the day.

In-person health recommendations and requirements

Schools are expected to offer the maximum amount of social distance possible, with the recommendation that students are placed at least six feet apart in classrooms. Where this is not possible, the guidelines recommend physical barriers. Each district is also required to adopt a disinfecting policy, place directional markers in high-traffic areas, and adopt a policy for screening students and employees for symptoms and exposure history.

School districts must adopt a policy for screening students and employees upon arrival for symptoms and history of exposure. Policies must include the following:

  • Staff must visually check students for symptoms upon arrival (which may include temperature checks) and/or confirm with families that students are free of COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Health checks must be conducted safely and respectfully, and in accordance with any applicable privacy laws and regulations.
  • Results must be documented when signs/symptoms of COVID-19 are observed.
  • Any screening policy must take into account students with disabilities and accommodations that may be needed in the screening process for those students.

Districts are also required to develop protocols for positive tests or contact with those who have tested positive for COVID-19. These protocols must include isolation of the individual, notification of local health officials, and contact tracing.

Students can still eat lunch in the cafeteria, but social distancing is still expected and lunch times should be staggered to allow for minimal student contact. Recess and gym are also permitted with size limits. Indoor school sports are not permitted, but outdoor school sports are allowed.

Transportation and busing requirements and restrictions

School buses are recommended to maintain a six-foot social distance between students. If six feet of social distance is not possible on transportation, students are required to wear face coverings. The guidelines also recommend having students fill in the back rows of the bus first and progress forward. Students exit the bus in the opposite fashion to limit physical interaction among students.

Bus drivers are required to wear face coverings and follow sanitizing protocols in line with other staff members.


In July, The Essex County Education Association, which represents 12,000 teachers in one of the largest districts in the state, called for schools to open with fully remote instruction. The group’s president, Anthony Rosamilia said:

Simply put, despite the best of intentions and planning, the risk to the health and safety of our students and staff is too high. … Districts are wasting precious weeks creating plans with convoluted schedules and Plexiglas dividers that are plainly unworkable. Staffing these plans will prove to be impossible. Ultimately, once cases of COVID start showing up — and they will — these plans fall apart like a house of cards. Where do districts, families and students end up in that case? Right back in remote learning anyway, but without the benefit of planning and preparation because we were too busy figuring out who is going to be taking temperatures and sanitizing every surface each day.

The Garden State Coalition of Schools, a nonpartisan education advocacy group, applauded the state’s reopening guidelines, saying:

The plan correctly provides flexibility to school districts that allow school communities to meet the unique challenges presented for each community.  We are a network of individual hubs all bound with a shared goal of educating New Jersey’s children.  Yet, each hub has unique nuances that render individualization mandatory. Our school systems each have unique challenges, and have vast differences in facilities, budgets, curricular programs, grade level configuration, transportation, size, location, technological needs, etc.

New York’s Recovering, Rebuilding, and Renewing

The New York State Education Department released its school reopening guidance on July 13. Interim Commissioner Shannon Tahoe said, “The guidance encourages community involvement and allows for flexibility so that districts and schools in every corner of the state can assess their unique situation and develop a plan that best meets the needs of their students.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said, “It’s purely on the numbers, purely on the science.”

At that time it was unclear if all schools would be allowed to reopen. Gov. Cuomo held a press conference on Aug. 7, where he announced all school districts in the state were authorized to open, as long as the rate of positive tests in the district remained below 5 percent. The decisions about in-person learning were left to each district.

New York does not have a statewide date for public schools to reopen. Each district is required to hold three online discussions with parents regarding their plans by August 21. According to EdWeek, public schools in New York traditionally start the academic year in late August to early September.

On March 16, Gov. Cuomo closed schools for two weeks beginning March 18. On March 27, Cuomo extended the closure through April 15. He extended it again on April 6 to go through April 29, and on April 16 to go through May 15. The governor closed schools for the rest of the academic year on May 1.


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

The following tables show public education statistics in New York, 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.

New York public school metrics
Category Figure 50-state rank
Per pupil spending (’16-’17) $25,222 1
Number of students (’18-’19) 2,673,930 4
Number of teachers (’16-17) 209,151 3
Number of public schools (’18-’19) 4,811 3
Student:teacher ratio (’18-’19) 12.7 44
Percent qualifying for free/reduced lunch (’16-’17) 52.6% 17
New York public school revenue
Category Figure 50-state rank
Total revenue $62,517,215,000 2
Percent from federal sources 4.5% 48
Percent from state sources 41.5% 36
Percent from local sources 54% 10


District reopening plans

Each school district had until July 31 to submit plans to the New York State Department of Health for three different learning models–all in-person, all remote, and a hybrid of the two. Each plan had to detail how districts would meet state requirements for each model. The plans are required to be made publicly available online.

In-person, hybrid, and online learning

The decision to reopen schools for in-person learning has been left up to individual districts, and each district has been required to post online plans regarding testing, contact tracing, and remote learning. Cuomo is also requiring districts to host information sessions with parents and the community to discuss their plans.

Mask requirements

Schools are required to provide face coverings to employees, and to have them available to students if they forget their own. Everyone in a school and on school grounds is required to wear cloth face coverings in the following situations:

  • Whenever they are within 6 feet of someone;
  • In hallways;
  • In restrooms; and
  • In other congregate settings, including buses.

In-person health recommendations and requirements

For reopening to in-person instruction, the state provides detailed recommendations on health checks, hygiene practices, social distancing, PPE and face coverings, managing ill persons, and cleaning and disinfecting.

Additionally, schools are required to meet a large number of conditions to reopen, including:

  • Districts/schools must review and consider the number of students and staff allowed to return in person.
  • Districts/schools must engage with school stakeholders and community members when developing health and safety reopening plans.
  • District/school plan has a written protocol for daily temperature screenings of all students and staff
  • District/school plan requires that ill students and staff be assessed by the school nurse or medical director
  • District/school plan has written protocol requiring students or staff with a temperature, signs of illness, and/or a positive response to the questionnaire to be sent directly to a dedicated isolation area
  • District/school plan has written protocol to ensure all persons in school buildings keep social distance of at least 6 feet whenever possible.
  • District/school plan has written protocol requiring all employees, adult visitors, and students to wear a cloth face covering whenever social distancing cannot be maintained.
  • District/school plan has written protocol for actions to be taken if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the school.
  • District/school plan has written protocol that complies with CDC guidance for the return to school of students and staff following illness or diagnosis of confirmed case of COVID-19 or following quarantine due to contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19

Transportation and busing requirements and restrictions

Requirements and considerations for transportation and busing include:

  • Students who are able will be required to wear masks and social distance on the bus;
  • All buses which are used every day by districts and contract carriers must be cleaned/disinfected once a day.
  • School buses shall not be equipped with hand sanitizer due to its combustible composition and potential liability to the carrier or district.
  • School bus drivers, monitors, attendants and mechanics shall perform a self-health assessment for symptoms of COVID-19 before arriving to work.
  • School bus drivers, monitors, attendants and mechanics must wear a face covering along with an optional face shield;
  • Transportation staff will be trained and provided periodic refreshers on the proper use of personal protective equipment and the signs and symptoms of COVID-19;
  • Transportation departments/carriers will need to provide Personal Protective Equipment such as masks and gloves for drivers, monitors and attendants in buses as well as hand sanitizer for all staff in their transportation locations
  • Drivers, monitors and attendants who must have direct physical contact with a child must wear gloves.

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.

  • The Big Ten and PAC-12 conferences became the first Power Five conferences to postpone their football seasons. The presidents of the Big Ten’s 14 member institutions voted to delay the season until Spring 2021. PAC 12 presidents voted to suspend all football activity until January 2021, when they will reevaluate their decision to see if the sport can be played in the spring.
  • On Aug. 7, Juneau Superior Court Judge Phillip M. Pallenberg dismissed a lawsuit alleging that state appropriation of federal funds received under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act violated the Alaska Constitution. In his complaint, Juneau resident Eric Forrer argued that the use of a legislative committee, instead of the full state legislature, to approve appropriation of the federal aid violated Article IX, Section 13, of the Alaska Constitution. In response to the lawsuit, the Alaska Legislature convened in late May and ratified the actions of the legislative committee. Following that ratification, Pallenberg declined to stop the legislature’s activity pending his final decision on the merits, ruling in July that there are no “special procedural requirements for appropriations bills in the Alaska Constitution.” Pallenberg added that, given the “rapidly evolving circumstances of a public health emergency,” ratification of the legislative committee’s actions was likely constitutional. Following oral arguments, Pallenberg ruled in favor of the state and dismissed the case. Forrer’s attorney said that an appeal may be filed.