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MSU researchers: Politics played a role in whether schools went online during the pandemic

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Posted at 5:14 PM, Oct 22, 2021

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A new study from Michigan State University has found that the school decisions to teach in-person or switch to remote learning were not based entirely on COVID-19 data. Politics, they say, played a role.

"All of the school districts in Michigan had to submit a report regularly to the state saying whether they were going to be in person, all remote or some hybrid of the two," said Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research and an author of the study.

Grossmann said states made the decision to close all schools in the spring, but, come fall 2020, the choice was up to school districts.

"What that ended up doing is making local decision making responsive to local citizens," he said. "And that ended up making it a pretty partisan decision. Democratic areas were much more likely to close in person and go all remote and Republican areas were much more likely to stay in person."

Grossmann said there's evidence of that right here in Lansing and East Lansing. Both districts were online only during the fall.

"It turns out that we were more likely to be a Democratic voting area. We also had contracts that suggested high union activity in school districts. And we had COVID rates that were moderate," Grossmann said.

He said there's a number of possibilities as to why schools were responsive to local partisanship, one being that Democratic areas elected Democratic school board members.

"And those school board members just are more likely to be skeptical of Donald Trump. And we're more worried about the pandemic," he said.

Another possibility is that districts were responsive to what parents and other residents wanted.

The research shows that districts in Democratic counties were nearly three times as likely to go fully remote, while Republican county districts were 1.8 times more likely to offer in-person instruction. School districts in battleground counties were in the middle

For more information on the research, click here.

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