Are states giving schools enough reopening guidance?

Education and health agencies must coordinate to support students' physical and mental health needs
By: | January 15, 2021
Social and emotional climate for in-person and online students is the component addressed the least in state reopening plans, with 12 states not covering the topic at all, a new report show. (GettyImages/fstop123)Social and emotional climate for in-person and online students is the component addressed the least in state reopening plans, with 12 states not covering the topic at all, a new report show. (GettyImages/fstop123)

States recommendations for reopening schools, though they cover aspects of student health and well-being, lack specificity for supporting the “whole child” post-COVID, a new report says.

Education and health agencies must coordinate to support students across a range of physical and mental health needs, says the report from Child Trends, a nonprofit research organization.

Child Trends used the Centers for Disease Control’s Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child health model to analyze school reopening plans in all 50 states.

Those 10 benchmarks include physical education, nutrition, health education, social and emotional learning, counseling, employee wellness, community involvement and family engagement.


More from DABiden’s COVID-19 relief plan includes $170B for education


“Districts may need guidance for all phases of reopening so they are prepared to provide services to students in all learning settings, particularly if shifts in the COVID-19 pandemic require sudden school closures or openings,” the authors of the report write.

The analysis paid particular attention to whether states are offering detailed guidance on phased reopenings as schools move from entirely remote settings to hybrid learning to in-person.

The report rated each plan based on how many competents of the CDC model were included. For example, six states—Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland and Nebraska—addressed all 10 of the CDC’s whole-child benchmarks in their reopening plans.

Most states provided guidance on a majority of the model’s 10 components, with 46 states covering at least seven.

Here are more highlights from the report’s findings:

  • Social and emotional climate is the component addressed the least in state reopening plans, with 12 states not covering the topic at all.
  • Physical environment—such as cleaning, masking and social distancing—is the component most often addressed.
  • Most state plans do not provide comprehensive guidance specific to each phase of reopening.
  • While 41 states provide general guidance related to health services, only 14 states provide this guidance specifically for in-person learning.
  • State plans do not often cover different options for service delivery. For instance, 36 states address nutrition generally but only 14 include specific guidance for providing school meals and nutrition services in entirely remote learning scenarios.

More from DAHow a district responded when COVID cases quadrupled