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Talk Data to Me: Supporting the Health Needs of Students and Staff

Student Data

In early April, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said that schools should be reopened and “full-fledged in person” come fall 2021, regardless of vaccination status. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona echoed this in early May, saying that he expects a full return for all students in the fall. With most states no longer placing restrictions on school districts, COVID-19 cases in decline, and vaccination rates on the rise, there is a clear path forward for all schools to safely and fully operate in person in the fall.

What do school administrators and school health officials think about this? And what can we learn from them to ensure a safe and effective school reopening?

Frontline surveyed over 2,000 district and school leaders and school health professionals about their perceptions of student and staff physical and mental health management during the pandemic. A range of administrators, school health professionals, and educators from across the country shared their input and experiences. Here is what the survey data showed.

Key Learnings from the Student and Staff Mental Health Survey

Operating schools remotely was certainly necessary in the early months of the pandemic, but it didn’t take long for some unintended negative effects to be felt far and wide. These effects range from the unsurprising reports of student learning loss to the less obvious impact on mothers. Perhaps the most commonly reported negative consequence of remote learning has been its impact on physical and mental health in students and staff. Results from our survey provide further insight into this sentiment.  Seventy-nine percent of district/school leadership and 87% of school counselors, psychologists, social workers, and mental health directors reported an increase in student mental health needs.

Have you seen an increase in student mental health needs this year?

Seventy-three percent of all respondents and 90% of principals and assistant principals reported an increase in staff mental health needs. To address this, 71% of non-mental health professionals* reported that their district plans to support both physical and mental health needs of school staff through the next phase of the pandemic. However, only 45% of school mental health professionals** believe the same thing, with 34% “unsure” of their school’s plan.

Will your district support school staff health as we enter the next phase of the pandemic?

In addition to individual mechanisms for dealing with the pandemic, the K-12 community has been grappling with remote learning, hybrid models, unexpected quarantines, and ever-changing CDC requirements and state and local guidelines. Over 80% of respondents reported that their scope of work has changed significantly or is “completely different from past years.” Sixty-five percent expect their scope of work to continue to evolve through the pandemic, and 28% responded that they “don’t know” what to expect. This uncertainty about the future of the pandemic and how it may or may not affect schooling will continue to impact the well-being of students and staff.

What Do Schools Need to Reopen Safely?

Given the large pool of respondents who are unsure about their future scope of work and general uncertainty of the pandemic, plus the expectations from our educational leaders that schools need to operate full in-person in the fall, district administrators need to set their communities up for success and ensure a safe reopening. We asked our respondents what needs they have that are most critical to safely reopening schools.  Results are shown in the table below.

What needs are most critical to safely reopening schools?

Navigating physical and mental health concerns certainly won’t be easy — and every school and locale experiences its own unique set of challenges. But below are some resources to help you think and plan as you look to the fall.

  • [On-demand Webinar] School Health & the Post-Pandemic Future: District leaders and health practitioners tackle questions like: Will you track staff vaccinations? What types of operational changes have you implemented during the pandemic? How do you plan to address the growing need for mental health supports? What type of data do you collect around students’ mental health needs, and how are you using that data?
  • 5 Ways School Nurses Can Increase Their Sphere of Influence: COVID-19 has amplified the contribution of school nurses and the need for each school district to have a comprehensive health services program — but to be successful, school nurses need opportunities to lend expert input to health-related decisions in a school. Here’s how to increase that sphere of influence.
  • How DC Public Schools Use Student Data to Support Mental Health: The question of how to support student mental health is more critical than ever. Many schools have access to mental health data of some kind, but is it truly usable for decision making? Here is how District of Columbia Public Schools collects data to inform effective planning for trauma-focused interventions and crisis response.
  • Q&A: Legal Issues When Schools Reopen: How can schools avoid legal exposure during COVID-19? Here, Education Law litigator and lecturer John B. Comegno II, Esq., responds to questions about legal considerations during reopening.

 

Kevin Agnello

Kevin is a Data Analytics Engineer for Frontline Education. He is a former high school mathematics teacher and holds a Master's Degree in Educational Curriculum and Instruction, a Master's Degree in Educational Psychology, and is working on a dissertation toward a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology.