Students have faced isolation, loss, and trauma during the pandemic, all of which have impacted their home and school lives. Resources and plans to address these challenges vary across school districts, and many are ill-equipped to do so. For instance, prior to the pandemic, research found that 60 percent of schools lacked mental health services, and that mental health services for children of color were less accessible and of lower quality than services available to non-Latino White students. Additionally, school staff who may be best equipped to address students’ emotional and health issues (i.e., social workers, counselors, psychologists, and nurses) are in short supply, have high caseloads, and often serve multiple schools.
Districts should consider the full range of student support needs as they allocate resources, as well as the number and type of staff who must attend to students’ needs, the need for staff professional development, and the infrastructure needed to ensure comfort and safety—matters that were addressed unevenly in COVID-19 state guidance for districts. School leaders must also balance academics with the need to foster a school climate that recognizes students’ social and emotional needs.
An equitable approach to reopening necessitates that school leaders listen to parents while also engaging with students, teachers, staff, and other stakeholders when developing plans for in-person schooling. Students, in particular, can offer solutions to strengthen their own educational experiences. School leaders can use virtual town halls, social media, focus groups, and targeted surveys to solicit feedback from students themselves, child and youth-serving organizations, local governments, mental health providers, and other stakeholders. School districts that engage communities in collaborative and inclusive planning will be better able to develop equitable reopening plans that respond to the disparate ways in which students, families, and neighborhoods have been impacted by the pandemic.