Policy & Public Health

More Than Half of All States Have Shut Down All of Their Schools

See ongoing updates on this story here.

The five largest school districts in the nation are now shut down as more states and major education systems around the country announced closures over the weekend owing to fears over the COVID-19 pandemic. At this point, more than half of the states in the United States have now ordered all of their public schools closed, with many also ordering private schools to shut down.

One state so far Monday — New Jersey — and 12 states this weekend — Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina and Vermont — brought the total number of statewide closures to 33. Still more closures are expected today and throughout the week.

The closure of New York City’s 1,800 schools was announced Sunday. New York City is the largest school system in the nation, representing about 1.1 million students and employing some 75,000 teachers. Schools will be closed starting today, with teachers reporting to work later in the week to begin training to deliver distance learning to their students.

They join 19 states and several large districts that announced shutdowns late last week. Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia, have all ordered public K–12 schools closed amid fears over the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). In addition, several large school districts, including Atlanta, Austin, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles — the second-largest district in the nation — have ordered schools shuttered.

The state closures seem by and large to have been implemented with very little or no coordination with school or district leaders, and none have included concrete plans for delivering educational services during the closures. Some vaguely addressed the need to deliver food and services to students who need them. Some states have yet to post information about the closures or even the fact of the closures on their sites — even as the closures take effect.

Monday Closures

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy ordered all public and private schools, colleges and universities to close starting Wednesday. They are to remained closed until the state determines that it's safe for them to reopen.

Weekend Closures

Thirteen states this weekend announced closures.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson did an about-face Sunday and ordered public schools closed beginning Tuesday, with schools having the option of shutting down Monday.

Arizona is closing all schools through March 16 through March 27, Gov. Doug Ducey announced in an open letter Sunday. He indicated additional information for education leaders would be posted on azed.gov, a site that was not up and running as of this writing early Monday morning.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont did a similar about-face Sunday, ordering all public schools in the state to close until at least March 31, effective Tuesday.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds Sunday recommended all schools close for at least four weeks, at which time the state will assess whether they should remain closed or students should return to classes on campus.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker ordered all public and private schools in his state closed starting Tuesday. Those closures are expected to last for three weeks at this point. Massachusetts was one of only four states that announced closures over the weekend and also provided that information on its state website.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order late Sunday closing schools until March 27.

Montana public K–12 schools will be closed through March 27.

Nevada announced Sunday it will close all public and private schools, including charters, until April 6. Those closures are effective immediately.

New Hampshire is closing schools March 16 through April 3, with students tentatively scheduled to return to class April 6. According to an executive order issued by Gov. Chris Sununu, schools must begin delivering remote instruction by March 23. New Hampshire, like Massachusetts, publicly posted the fact of the school closures on its website. The state also posted guidance for school leaders.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order Saturday calling for the closure of all K–12 schools in that state. Schools will close March 16–30, unless extended further.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum Sunday night announced the shortest shutdown among the statewide school closures thusfar, just one week. That timespan may be extended.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster ordered all schools closed through the end of March, beginning March 16. According to local reporting, food centers will be established to help students who rely on school lunches.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott ordered schools closed March 18 to April 6 with the possibility of an extension. That order addresses the need to distribute food for students who rely on school meals, providing services for special needs students and planning for distance education should the closure timeframe be extended.

Friday's Closures

Thirteen states announced closures Friday, March 13, to take effect this week.

Alabama is closing schools statewide starting March 18, a Wednesday. Normal school operations are expected to resume April 6.

Alaska closed its schools for a period of two weeks.

Florida announced closures to take place until March 30. As of this writing, the state has yet to post any information about the closures on its site.

Illinois shut down all private and public schools, including charters, until at least March 30.

Louisiana is shutting down schools until April 13. According to a proclamation the governor signed into effect Friday, schools are to continue providing essential services, such as meals, to the best of their ability. The proclamation calls for schools to offer distance education, where possible. The instructional minute requirement for the state is being suspended as well.

Pennsylvania is closing schools for two weeks, starting March 16. Gov. Tom Wolf said in a prepared statement: “Be aware that no school district will be penalized if it fails to meet the 180 day or school hours requirements. The Department of Education will work with intermediate units and other stakeholders to support school districts with any continuity of learning plans they may be pursuing. Also, the Pennsylvania Department of Education announced today that it received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow eligible schools to serve meals to low income students in a non-congregate setting, such as a drive-through or grab and go, during this closure. We will also work with schools to assist them with those plans.”

Rhode Island Gov. Gina M. Raimondo announced a one-week closure, moving spring break week from April to this week, starting March 16. According to information released by the state: “… [T]eachers and other school staff are urged to remain local. The change in school vacation week is to limit spread of COVID-19 while allowing schools and districts to work with the Rhode Island Department of Education on their distance learning plans. It will also allow schools and districts to prepare to make meals available to at-risk students where possible, in the event we need to move to distance learning. Schools should also use next week to clean and disinfect all surfaces in their buildings. A decision will be made at the end of next week about what to do the following week.”

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem Friday announced schools will close for one week for cleaning. An extension of those closures is possible.

Utah closed its schools for two weeks under a "soft closure."

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered all K–12 schools in his state to close for a minimum of two weeks. The time off will be used for cleaning and disinfecting and developing longer-term plans. “We are taking this action to keep Virginians as safe and healthy as possible, and to minimize exposure to COVID-19,” said Gov. Northam, in a prepared statement. “I recognize this will pose a hardship on many families, but closing our schools for two weeks will not only give our staff time to clean and disinfect school facilities, it will help slow the spread of this virus. This is a fluid and fast-changing situation. We will do everything possible to ensure that students who rely on school nutrition programs continue to have access to meals, and that the disruption to academics is as minimal as possible.”

According to the department: "Virginia Department of Education officials are working closely with school divisions and the Department of Social Services to ensure students who qualify for free or reduced lunch programs are able to access those programs while schools are closed. The Department of Education will issue guidance and memos to superintendents across the commonwealth to provide specifics about the continuity of education, school nutrition, and updated public health guidelines."

“We recognize this decision places burdens on many of our parents and families, especially for those who rely on school nutrition programs for access to healthy food for their children,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, also in a prepared statement. “However, we believe closing Virginia schools is in the commonwealth’s best interest as we seek to stop the spread of COVID-19. Virginia will continue to explore and implement innovative approaches to provide meals to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch during this closure.”

Washington expanded its school closures statewide until April 24. Previously, the closures only affected three districts. Now, all public and private schools will be closed as of Monday.

West Virginia similarly indicated it will continue to provide nutrition services during its school closures, which affects all pre-K–12 schools in the state.According to the governor's office, "This comes after several measures were taken this week, including the canceling of all out-of-state travel and the suspension of all afterschool and school extracurricular activities. Though at this time there are no positive cases of COVID-19, this step was taken out of an abundance of caution. Child nutrition programs will continue throughout the school closure." School employees, however, are expected to continue to report to work for the time being. West Virginia is the only state that has not yet set a date for schools to resume normal operations.

Wisconsin is closing schools starting March 18. Students are expected to return to classes April 6.

Thursday's Closures

Six states announced closures Thursday, March 12, to take effect Monday, March 16.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear recommended all schools close for at least two weeks. His office reported that most anticipate remaining closed until April 13.

Maryland, which is closing schools for two weeks starting Monday and made the announcement Thursday, recommended that administrators work on plans for delivering educational services.

Michigan also made its closure announcement Thursday night. All Michigan schools, public and private, including boarding schools, will close for three weeks beginning Monday. No specific plans were announced regarding the closures. However, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in a statement released to news outlets, acknowledged the need to address the difficulties faced by students who rely on school-provided meals.

“I am working with partners across state government to ensure educators, parents, and students have the support they need during this time, and to ensure our children who rely on school for meals have access to food,” Gov. Whitmer said. “I know this will be a tough time, but we’re doing this to keep the most people we can safe. I urge everyone to make smart choices during this time and to do everything they can to protect themselves and their families.”

New Mexico also announced its public school closures Thursday. Closures will begin Monday and are expected to last three weeks.

“This is a proactive measure to limit the potential community spread of COVID-19,” said Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, in a prepared statement. “We have seen other states take this measure after they have experienced community spread of this virus. New Mexico is going to be proactive and do everything we can to prevent the potential spread of the virus. I have been in communication with all of our superintendents about this proactive step, and we are all going to work together to address this public health challenge.”

“We are advising the public of this forthcoming announcement tonight so that parents and students can prepare for this upcoming change and begin to make arrangements,” New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham said in a prepared statement. “We will be informing the public of additional measures that the state will be taking to ease the burden on families and educators and ensure that children continue to be fed and cared for.”

In Ohio, the news came as a surprise to at least some district administrators. According to local reporting, administrators at Cincinnati Public Schools had no idea of the plans for closure until the announcement was made to the public late Thursday. Schools in Ohio will be shuttered three weeks starting Monday.

Ohio State Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria issued a statement in response to the closures Thursday: “We are especially grateful to schools that have proactively developed plans to keep learning going even if school buildings aren’t open. There is a lot of momentum in Ohio’s schools right now and we would hate to see that momentum stalled, although we understand that today’s announcement does mean there will be disruptions.”

She did not offer guidance to schools or parents affected by the decision: “We understand there are many questions. This is uncharted territory that we all are navigating together. We are working to provide answers but rest assured that we are committed to working with Governor DeWine, the legislature and other stakeholders to provide as much flexibility and latitude as necessary to accommodate these circumstances. Thank you for your patience.”

In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown Thursday announced schools will close for two weeks beginning Monday. She said in a statement released Thursday: “Schools are critical institutions that provide important services for all our students, but especially our most vulnerable, and during this crisis I have worked hard to ensure those critical services continue. So many of our families depend on school in order for parents to go to their jobs, and for students to access health care and receive nutrition assistance. However, I have heard from superintendents, school board members, teachers, parents, and students that it has now become impossible to functionally operate schools due to workforce issues and student absences. Schools are experiencing critical shortages in staff, and superintendents are concerned for school personnel who are at elevated risk such as those over age 60 and those with underlying medical issues.”

Gov. Brown’s office ordered schools to develop plans for reopening schools that “accommodate ongoing impacts of coronavirus. Staff should utilize the final two days of March to finalize plans for operating schools under updated measures, with students expected to return on Wednesday, April 1.”

Schools are also ordered to develop plans to “continue nutrition services during the closure.”

“We are in close communication with school districts across the state, and they will be communicating regularly with their school communities throughout the closure period,” said Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education, in a prepared statement. “Due to the evolving nature of this crisis, these timelines will be reevaluated in late March in consultation with school administrators.”

Find more resources for schools during the COVID-19 crisis here.