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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del., on Sept. 2, 2020. (AP) Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del., on Sept. 2, 2020. (AP)

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del., on Sept. 2, 2020. (AP)

Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke February 25, 2021

If Your Time is short

  • There is no publicly available government accounting of how many schools have reopened to in-person learning. But research from several organizations suggests that Joe Biden’s goal to have in-person classes at more than half of U.S. schools at least one day a week was met before he took office.
 

A recent social media post takes aim at President Joe Biden’s promise to bring more students back to classrooms after the coronavirus pandemic closed schools across the country. 

"We’ll have in person classes at more than 50% of schools in my 1st 100 days!" reads the text over an image of Biden. But below the president’s face is this kicker: "We’re already at 66% dumbbutt!!"

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

What the Biden administration said about school reopenings

The White House didn’t respond to PolitiFact’s questions about the post. But here’s what his administration has said about reopening schools. 

On Dec. 8, Biden gave a speech in which he described three objectives for a team focused on COVID-19 to accomplish in his first 100 days in office. Getting kids back in schools and keeping them there was a big one.

"If Congress provides the funding we need to protect students, educators, and staff, if states and cities put strong public health measures in place that we all follow, then my team will work to see that a majority of our schools can open by the end of my first 100 days," he said. "That’s right. We’ll look to have the most schools open that we can possibly in 100 days." 

The headlines that followed included this one from the Associated Press: "Biden vows to reopen most schools after 1st 100 days on job."

How many is most? It’s not clearcut. But subsequent statements from the Biden administration refined his vision for reopening schools and referred to both a "majority" and "more than 50%." 

Biden released a pandemic strategy plan in January that said the country is "committed to ensuring that students and educators are able to resume safe, in-person learning as quickly as possible, with the goal of getting a majority of K-8 schools safely open in 100 days." 

The following month, a reporter asked press secretary Jen Psaki to elaborate on Biden’s goal of reopening schools. 

"His goal that he set is to have the majority of schools — so, more than 50% — open by day 100 of his presidency," she said Feb. 9. "And that means some teaching in classrooms. So, at least one day a week. Hopefully, it’s more. And obviously it is as much as is safe in each school and local district." 

What we know about how many schools have reopened for in-person learning

On Feb. 5, the National Center for Education Statistics, which is part of the Department of Education, announced it would start surveying about 7,000 elementary and middle schools across the country to determine in part how many are learning remotely, in-person or a combination of the two. 

Up until now there has been no official national source tracking school reopenings. 

Other sources, such as Burbio, a company that aggregates school data nationwide, have attempted to gather that data. And research from several groups suggests that Biden’s goal — as clarified by Psaki — was already achieved before he took office.

According to Burbio, by Jan. 18, 32.6% of U.S. students in kindergarten through 12th grade were attending school in person. Another 17.8% were attending some classes in person and some remote. Combined, that’s 50.4% of students attending some school in person. 

By Feb. 8, a few days before the Facebook post appeared online, that combined total had increased to 64.8%, with 39.7% learning in person and 25.1% learning in person or remotely. 

By Feb. 15, a few days after this Facebook post appeared online, that combined total had notched up to 66.4%.

The latest data from Burbio — which audits more than 1,200 school districts representing more than 35,000 schools in 50 states — puts the total number of K-12 students attending some classes in person at 68.9.%.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research group at the University of Washington, found that most school districts were operating in person in December even though more districts were teaching remotely than at any point during the fall following a surge of COVID-19 cases. 

From Nov. 24 through Dec. 28, according to a January report from the group that looked at a statistically representative sample of 477 school districts, at least 56.6% of students were attending some classes in person, with 44.3% learning exclusively in person. 

According to a December survey by the EdWeek Research Center, even more school districts were offering at least some level of in-person learning: 81%.

But another survey, by the quarterly Education Next, considered a nationally representative sample of 2,155 parents of K-12 students in November and December. The publication found that more than half of U.S. students are receiving instruction entirely remotely while about 47% were attending some classes in person.

Changing expectations  

Biden has been accused of moving the goalposts on school reopenings, from reopening most schools to reopening a majority of elementary and middle schools to reopening more than 50% of schools for in-person learning one day a week. 

FactCheck.org, which also looked at what it called "Biden’s underwhelming school reopening goal," noted that if Biden’s goal was to have a majority of all schools fully reopened within his first 100 days, research from organizations like Burbio suggest that we’re not there yet. 

What we know about school reopenings is limited. Several sources of data supports that the goal as it has been clarified by the Biden administration — reopening more than half of schools for in-person learning at least one day a week — had already happened before Biden took office. Education Next, meanwhile, suggests that this goal has not yet been achieved. 

Research reported from Burbio on Feb. 15 also supported the Facebook post’s claim that 66% of schools had already reopened to some in-person learning, but that figure has varied depending on the group and the date. 

 
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Our Sources

Facebook post, Feb. 11, 2021

Rev, Joe Biden announces Fauci & key health team picks briefing transcript, Dec. 8, 2020

The Associated Press, Biden vows to reopen most schools after 1st 100 days on job, Dec. 8, 2020

Linguistic Society, On measurement and quantification: The case of most and more than half, 2016

Joe Biden’s National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, January 2021

The White House, Press briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Feb. 9, 2021

NPR, Education Dept. launches first federal effort to track school reopening, Feb. 5, 2021

Burbio, K-12 school reopening trends, Jan. 18, 2021

Burbio, K-12 school reopening trends, Feb. 8, 2021

Burbio, K-12 school reopening trends, Feb. 15, 2021

Burbio, K-12 school reopening trends, Feb. 22, 2021

Burbio, Burbio’s methodology, visited Feb. 25, 2021

The Associated Press, Is one day a week enough? Biden’s school goal draw blowback, Feb. 10, 2021

The New York Times, Biden trims ambitions on school reopening pledge, Feb. 11, 2021

The Center on Reinventing Public Education, U-Turn: Suge of COVID cases reverses reopening progress in America’s school districts, January 2021

EducationWeek, Can schools really reopen in 100 days? How staffing could hobble Biden’s plan, Jan. 27, 2021

FactCheck.org, Biden’s underwhelming school reopening goal, Feb. 11, 2021

The Wall Street Journal, Biden administration says schools have reopened if they are open one day a week, Feb. 10, 2021

USA Today, ‘At least one day a week’: White House clarifies Biden’s goal to reopen schools, Feb. 9, 2021

Education Next, Pandemic parent survey finds perverse pattern: Students are more likely to be attending school in person where Covid is spreading more rapidly, Winter 2021

 

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