OBJECTIVES: Identify factors associated with the decision to provide in-person, hybrid, and remote learning in kindergarten through 12th grade school districts during the 2020–2021 school year.

METHODS: We performed a retrospective study evaluating school district mode of learning and community coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) incidence and percent positivity rates at three time points during the pandemic: 1) September 15, 2020 (the beginning of the school year, prior to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] guidance); 2) November 15, 2020 (mid-semester following the release of CDC guidance and an increase of COVID-19 cases); and January 15, 2021 (start of the second semester and peak COVID-19 rates). Five states were included in the analysis: Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The primary outcome was mode of learning in elementary, middle, and high schools during three time points. The measures included community COVID-19 incidence and percent positivity rates, school and student demographics, and county size classification of school location.

RESULTS: No relationship between mode of learning and community COVID-19 rates was observed. County urban classification of school location was associated with mode of learning with school districts in nonmetropolitan and small metropolitan counties more likely to be in-person.

CONCLUSIONS: Community COVID-19 rates did not appear to influence the decision of when to provide in-person learning. Further understanding of factors driving the decisions to bring children back into the classroom are needed. Standardizing policies on how schools apply national guidance to local decision-making may decrease disparities in emergent crises.

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