Our goal is to provide a fundamental, up-to-date baseline of school districts’ current masking requirements and how they change during the 2021-22 school year. This tracker categorizes masking requirements for over 8,000 school districts nationwide, which include all regular public school districts with at least three schools. We hope these data will serve school communities as they face ongoing decisions, provide the basic knowledge necessary for shaping policy across states, and allow other researchers to more accurately study how COVID-19 mitigation efforts are impacting schools.
We adhere to high standards in research methodology and practices, pursuing rigorous transparency in our approach to this work.
This is a live data collection. Current and prior categorizations of districts may be misclassified. As such, we will be doing constant quality assurance over time. Publications of previous data may change with additional corrections to the data. If you see a district you believe is mis-categorized, please submit a correction request here. Please find a thorough description of R2L methodology and data here.
AEI would like to thank The Achelis and Bodman Foundation for its generous support that helped make the Return to Learn Tracker possible.
Return to Learn Instructional Mode and Mask Tracking data has been featured in various outlets, including:
These bar charts display the percentage of students in each category of mask requirements across weeks. Additionally, mask requirements are displayed for multiple district characteristics such as “Minority students”, in which high-minority districts are above the national district average and low-minority districts are above the average. For descriptions of all measures click on “More information on variable definitions.”
Adult Baccalaureate Adult baccalaureate rates refer to the proportion of adults with bachelor’s degrees or higher in the county. High adult baccalaureate refers to districts in counties whose population averages adult baccalaureate rate was above the national average. Low adult baccalaureate refers to districts in counties with baccalaureate rates below the national average. Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University, 2021, https://edopportunity.org/
District Size District size indicates the number of schools in a district. We defined small districts as those with three to five operational schools. Medium districts have between six and 11 operational schools. Lastly, large districts are defined as having 12 or more operational schools. Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and Common Core of Data, 2019, National Center for Education Statistics.
Mask Prevalence, Summer 2020
Mask usage was measured in summer of 2020 and indicates the estimated percentage of people within a county who would say “always” in response to the question “How often do you wear a mask in public when you expect to be within six feet of another person?” These data were collected from an online survey by the global data and survey firm Dynata at the request of The New York Times. Survey responses were collected between July 2 and July 14, 2020. Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and Mask Wearing Survey Data at the New York Times, 2020, https://github.com/nytimes/covid-19-data/tree/master/mask-use
Minority Students High minority districts are those that have a higher percentage of non-white students than the national district average. Low Minority districts have a below average percentage. Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and Common Core of Data, 2019, Nation Center for Education Statistics.
Presidential Vote Presidential vote indicates counties’ voting histories in the 2020 election. “Majority Trump Votes” refers to a district that resides in a county the majority of the population voted for Donald Trump. “Majority Biden Votes” refers to a district that resides in a county where the majority of the population voted for Joe Biden.
Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates from the US Census Bureau report the percentage of children aged 5-17 in poverty at the school district level. High SAIPE refers to districts above the national district average for this measure, and low SAIPE districts are those below the average. Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and US Census Bureau Data, 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/saipe.html
Urbanicity Urbanicity refers to whether the district is primarily located in urban, suburban or rural locales. Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and Common Core of Data, 2019, Nation Center for Education Statistics.
Gathered in March of 2021, Vaccine hesitancy reflects the estimated percentage of people within a county who then indicated that they would “probably not” or “definitely not” receive a COVID-19 vaccine when available. Estimates are based on responses to a question (“Once a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 is available to you, would you get a vaccine?”) from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey (HPS) on March 3, 2021 – March 15, 2021. Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and Vaccine Hesitancy for COVID-19: State, County, and Local Estimates, US Department of Health and Human Services, 2021, https://aspe.hhs.gov/pdf-report/vaccine-hesitancy
In-Person instruction 2020-21 Measures of districts in-person instructional offerings are based on 2020-21 . High In-person districts are those who offered more cumulative in person instructional offerings than the national district average. Low In-Person districts are those whose cumulative offerings were below the national average. Source: Author’s calculations using R2L Instructional Offerings data.
About the Definitions
Our coding is based on district-wide policies collected from direct contact with a district representative, district webpages, social media announcements, and for select states, based on state mask mandates or mandate bans. To ensure uniformity in collector responses, the district’s masking requirements are coded into two mutually exclusive categories:
The district is mask optional for students and staff or hags a partial mask requirement which is less than the CDC’s original Fall 2021 guidance that all teachers and students should wear masks indoors. Student and staff have the option to wear masks.
Districts that read “Mask Optional – Risky” in the label are those who are mask optional and in counties that were in the CDC’s red category for “High Community Transmission,” under the February 2022 masking guidance.
The district requires all staff and students to wear masks indoors in accordance with the CDC’s original Fall 2021 guidance.
Districts that read “Mask Required – Cautious” in the label are those that require masking and are located in counties that were in the CDC’s yellow or green categories for “Medium and Low Community Transmission,” under the February 2022 masking guidance.
About the Chart
The map of Mask Requirements and CDC COVID-19 Community Levels by County displays a heat map of counties by their COVID-19 community levels, as measured by the CDC. The CDC looks at the combination of three metrics to determine the COVID-19 community level, classified as low, medium, or high. Each colored dot represents a district color coded according to its instructional model for the current week. Source: Author’s calculations using R2L data and CDC’s U.S. COVID-19 Community Levels by County, 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/science/community-levels.html
The map of mask requirements and COVID-19 cases displays a heat map of counties by their seven-day average daily case rate per 100,000 population. Each colored dot represents a district color coded according to its mask requirement for the current week.