Education

Briefly Stated: February 22, 2023

February 21, 2023 9 min read
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New Evidence Shows Pandemic’s Impact on Mental Health

New data have emerged underscoring the devastating impact of the pandemic on the nation’s young people.

The report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows teenagers across the country are experiencing an increase in mental health challenges, with girls and those who identify as LGBTQ+ faring worse than boys and heterosexual youth.

The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey draws on data collected every two years among a nationally representative sample of high school students. This year’s report is the first presented since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey had more than 17,000 respondents and was conducted in fall 2021 when many schools were still in remote or hybrid learning.

In 2021, 42 percent of high school students said they experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year, the report says, representing a 13.5 percent increase from 2019 and a 50 percent increase from 2011.

Fifty-seven percent of female students and 69 percent of LGBTQ+ students said they experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the past year, compared with 29 percent of male students and 35 percent of heterosexual students.

Twenty-two percent of students seriously considered attempting suicide from fall 2020; 18 percent made a plan; and 10 percent attempted suicide, the report found. LGBTQ+ students were most likely to report having suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

While the report doesn’t examine what factors are causing the upsurge in mental health problems, changes in how people interact with each other, increases in misinformation, societal conflict, and social isolation from the pandemic could have been contributing factors, said Kathleen Ethier, the director of adolescent and school health for the CDC.

The findings underscore that teens’ mental health is declining and that schools, parents, and the community need to provide resources to support teens.

“At a time when schools are increasingly being turned into political battlegrounds in the ‘culture war,’ we must remember that real, young lives are at stake,” said Ronita Nath, the vice president of research at The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth.

More School Districts Are Paying Big Sums to Resolve Claims of Sexual Misconduct

School districts are now paying a hefty price for not dealing adequately with allegations of sexual misconduct.

A growing number shelled out legal damages or settlements of $1 million or more last year—many stemming from lawsuits related to sexual misconduct, crimes, and discrimination, some of it dating back decades, finds a new report.

In its latest annual report, United Educators, an insurance and risk-management company, analyzed some of the largest financial losses districts sustained as a result of legal claims.

It lists 69 publicly reported damage awards and settlements of $1 million or more among K-12 schools and colleges in 2022.

That was up from 38 awards of $1 million or more in 2021.

The increase highlights several trends, including a growing tendency by sexual-abuse victims to hold institutions accountable for how they address abuse, state law changes that allow more victims to sue, and a greater mistrust of educational institutions, say the report’s authors.

Beyond the legal and financial consequences, there’s an emotional impact, as students and staff members come to terms with potential wrongdoing by their district, and a reputational cost.

United Educators pulls its data from publicly available records and reports, and there are likely some settlements and jury awards that aren’t public.

One-third of large settlements reported in 2022 stemmed from sexual-misconduct claims.

In 2022, the cost of sexual-misconduct claims included in the report ranged from $1 million to more than $600 million, said Bryan Elie, the vice president of underwriting and product development for United Educators. The largest award, totaling $615.6 million, was paid out by the University of California system, which was accused of negligence for employing a gynecologist who sexually abused dozens of women.

“Half a billion dollars or more, I don’t care how big the institution is. That’s game changing, and could be institution-destroying, depending on the fiscal strength of that institution and the [insurance] coverage they may have,” Elie said.

The Pandemic Missing: Hundreds of Thousands of Students Haven’t Gone Back to School

Hundreds of thousands of students around the country have disappeared from public schools during the pandemic and haven’t resumed their studies elsewhere. In short, they’re missing.

That finding comes from an analysis by the Associated Press, Stanford University’s Big Local News project, and Stanford education professor Thomas Dee. An estimated 230,000 students in 21 states could not be accounted for, according to their data. These students didn’t move out of state, and they didn’t sign up for private school or home school.

“Missing” students received crisis-level attention in 2020 after the pandemic closed schools nationwide. Since then, they have become largely a budgeting problem. School leaders and some state officials worried aloud about the fiscal challenges their districts faced if these students didn’t come back. Each student represents money from the city, state, and federal governments.

Early in the pandemic, school staff went door to door to reach and reengage kids. Most such efforts have ended.

“Everyone is talking about declining enrollment, but no one is talking about who’s leaving the system and why,” said Tom Sheppard, a New York City parent and representative on the city’s Panel for Educational Policy.

Discussion of children’s recovery from the pandemic has focused largely on test scores and performance. But Dee says the data suggest a need to understand more about children who aren’t in school and how that will affect their development.

Students and families are avoiding school for a range of reasons. Some are still afraid of COVID-19, are homeless, or have left the country. Some students couldn’t study online and found jobs instead. Some slid into depression.

AP and Big Local News canvassed every state in the nation to find the most recently available data on both public and nonpublic schools, as well as census estimates for the school-age population.

Overall, public school enrollment fell by over 700,000 students between the 2019-20 and 2021-22 school years in the 21 states plus the District of Columbia that provided the necessary data.

Those states saw private-school enrollment grow by over 100,000 students. Home-schooling grew even more, surging by more than 180,000.

The Case for More Funding for Cybersecurity

The federal agency that oversees the largest technology program for schools put a question to educators late last year: Should the E-rate program, which primarily helps schools and libraries connect to the internet, start allowing districts to use the money for more advanced internet security firewalls?

The answer from 11 education organizations to the Federal Communications Commission? An emphatic yes.

The list includes the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), which represents ed-tech leaders; the Council of Chief State School Officers; the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents the leaders of large urban districts; and the State Education Technology Directors Association.

“This needed program update serves a vital educational purpose, and will help to ensure continuous, uninterrupted broadband connectivity,” the organizations wrote in response to the FCC’s December query to the K-12 field. Comments on the proposal were due to the agency by Feb. 13.

The E-rate program has been around since the mid-1990s and is funded through fees on certain telecommunications services.

Currently, the program has a spending cap of $4.4 billion, but it has been allocating far less than that. Last year, E-rate doled out about $2.4 billion, and the year before that, it gave out a little less than $2.1 billion. The lower demand for the funds is due, in part, to changes made to the program in 2014 and declining broadband costs.

But during that time, schools’ cybersecurity needs increased significantly as cyberattacks became more frequent and sophisticated, said Keith Krueger, CoSN’s executive director. He noted that just last month, schools in Des Moines, Iowa, shut down for two days because of a cyberattack.

These incidents have a “real impact on students and teachers in a whole variety of ways,” Krueger said, including lost instructional time, potential identity theft, and a damaged reputation to the school system.

The K12 Security Information Exchange, a nonprofit focused on helping schools prevent cyberattacks, estimates that there have been more than 1,330 publicly disclosed cyberattacks against schools since 2016, when the organization first began tracking them. Hackers have targeted districts of all sizes, including Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second largest.

Fla. Group Rethinks Policy on Girls’ Menstrual Periods

The intrusion into students’—make that girls’—privacy apparently has proved too much even by Florida lawmakers’ standards.

In the wake of opposition nationwide, the Florida High School Athletic Association has backed off its effort to force athletes to give their high schools information about their menstrual cycles.

Doctors often ask girls about their periods to figure out whether they are healthy enough to compete. But the issue exploded when the association proposed using a form that called for providing that information directly to schools, rather than just to health providers.

Critics questioned whether there were political motives as Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis weighs a run for the presidency. Opposition to abortion and transgender female athletes are core GOP tenets, and DeSantis has signed bills on both issues.

Amid the backlash, the association voted this month to recommend that most personal information revealed on medical-history forms stay at the doctor’s office. The new form, though, was changed to ask athletes their sex assigned at birth, rather than just their sex.

The proposed revisions to the form included four mandatory questions about menstruation: if the student has ever had a period, the age they had their first period, the date of their most recent period, and how many periods they’ve had in the past year.

Anger erupted over the proposal, with Democratic state lawmakers sending a letter calling the requirement “highly invasive” and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten decrying it as “dystopian” in a tweet.

Hundreds also went online to sign a Change.org petition called, “Privacy. Period!”

The association’s medical advisory committee said it recommended making menstrual histories mandatory based on guidance from groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The pediatrician group, though, insisted it never intended for information about menstrual histories to be provided to schools.

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Alyson Klein, Assistant Editor; Lauraine Langreo, Staff Writer; and Caitlynn Peetz, Staff Writer contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the February 22, 2023 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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