The effect of emergency-ordered school closings, learning loss and mask mandates on children

Aug 16, 2022

Key Findings

1. The governor’s decision to close public schools for nearly two years in response to COVID-19 significantly affected Washington’s 1.1 million public school students.

2. Research shows many students suffered long-term learning loss and psychological and emotional harm, resulting in limited future opportunities in life.

3. State test scores show public schools failed to adequately educate 70 percent of students in math and 52 percent of students in English.

4. Low-income students were most severely affected, with 8,700 fewer such students applying for state-funded college scholarships.

5. Some public schools have dropped standard grading and are automatically passing all students, regardless of the true level of learning they have received.

6. High school students suffered academic, mental and social harms due to enforced isolation from normal community, athletic and school-related activities.

7. Public health findings show the negative educational and social effects of shut-down orders were greater for this very low-risk group than the limited risk of exposure to COVID-19.

8. The 1.1 million students who attend public schools are being automatically promoted to the next grade. 



Governor Inslee responded to the national COVID health crisis by closing the public schools in Washington state to in-person instruction from March 2020 to September 2021, and allowing them to re-open sporadically the fall of 2021. Governor Inslee also mandated the use of masks and other face covering, and implemented social distancing rules in daycares and schools from March 2020 to March of 2022.

As a result of these three policies – school closures, masks mandates and social distancing, the 1.1 million students attending Washington’s public schools had their education disrupted for nearly two years.

The stated reason for imposing these policies was to slow or stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Recent studies have raised questions about whether or to what extent these extreme measures provided a public health benefit. There is no question, however, that these policies had a severe impact on children. This study reviews the human outcomes of school closures, mask mandates and social distancing and the impact they had on the social and learning losses experienced by children in Washington state.


Learning loss and social promotion

The data show Washington students have suffered significant learning loss as a result of these COVID rules. Governor Inslee and State superintendent Reykdal have acknowledged that the remote instruction provided in place of in-person instruction was inadequate, and failed to educate students to the minimum standards set by the state.

The teachers union fought to keep schools closed. When Washington’s schools finally reopened in September 2021, the 47th state in the nation to reopen, students were automatically promoted to the next grade without any assessment of whether they had actually advanced in learning. 



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