A Brief History of School Closures

The wide-ranging public health risk posed by COVID-19 required schools across the country to suspend in-person learning and transition to digital models. While far from ideal for educators, administrators, students and parents, this option at least provided an opportunity for continued education and development.

Understanding significant school closures caused by public health issues and similar problems in the past can provide valuable context for current work by edtech companies in development, marketing and sales. That applies to both the similarities and differences between past closures and the current one. Review this short history of school closures as your organization plans for addressing the drastically changing landscape of education.

empty school

School closures, currently and in the past, have significantly affected student development.

The 1916 polio epidemic

Polio is an infectious disease that can have extreme negative health outcomes. Before the polio vaccines developed in the 1950s offered general immunity and dramatically reduced transmission, the disease could cause epidemics in areas where infections spread.

An outbreak of polio in 1916 was especially severe in New York City. The National Bureau of Economic Research detailed several restrictions placed on school-aged children, who were often afflicted with polio at that time, by officials in New York in the summer leading up to the 1916-1917 school year. Although the New York metropolitan area, and Brooklyn especially, were heavily affected, schools across the country delayed opening as a public health precaution.

The NBER also found that students aged 14-17 who had their education disrupted by closures achieved lower educational attainment, as of 1940, when compared to other groups close to their age. With no effective method for offering learning opportunities outside of a classroom setting, some students suffered over the long term.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is certainly disruptive, but educators have the means at their disposal to continue connecting with their students and providing instruction. It’s up to edtech companies to support digital learning with effective tools.

The 2009 flu pandemic

In 2009, a strain of the flu informally called the swine flu closed more than 100 schools across the country, according to contemporary reporting from CNN. These closures were a mix of precautionary measures and reactions to students or staff testing positive for the virus. Such actions were significantly more time-limited than seen during the current pandemic, with schools shuttered for periods between a single day and two weeks, HealthAffairs said.

While much more current than the 1916 polio epidemic and the school closures related to it, digital infrastructure and tools that promote distance learning weren’t as prevalent or widely used as they are today. Although students missed significantly less school at that time than current learners are now, some didn’t have effective methods for connecting with teachers and classmates.

Addressing the current COVID-19 pandemic as an edtech provider

The Brookings Institution highlighted several steps that can help support everyone tied to schools and districts – students, parents and professionals – in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, when it issued its guidance in March 2020, the research group suggested planning for closures to last months as opposed to weeks. This recommendation was accurate, with many schools not returning to in-person learning before the 2019-2020 school year ended.

Edtech companies have an opportunity to assist educators and administrators as they continue to contend with the effects of the pandemic, in ways that were not possible or practical in the past. To do so effectively, businesses need a dependable source of accurate information related to school and district operations, as well as contact details for the professionals they want to market to. Agile is dedicated to providing this data, helping your organization engage in the most effective outreach possible. To learn more, get in touch with us today.

Skip to content