Student Well-Being

As Schools Stay Closed and Student Morale Slumps, Educators Worry About Mental Health

By Arianna Prothero — April 21, 2020 2 min read
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Less than a quarter of school leaders say they’ve been able to meet students’ mental health needs at the same level they were prior to the coronavirus pandemic, according to an Education Week Research Center Survey.

The situation is especially stark for urban schools, where only 5 percent of leaders say they have been able to keep up with providing the same level of mental health supports.

Even before the pandemic, rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide were on the rise among adolescents, and schools—which have in many areas become the de facto mental health-care providers for children in their communities—have struggled to keep up with the growing need.

Student mental health is top of mind for many educators right now.

The vast majority of teachers and district leaders indicated in the survey that they are concerned about students receiving mental health services while schools are closed. Forty-two percent said they were “very concerned”, while 47 percent reported that they are “somewhat concerned”.

The more low-income students a district serves, the more concerned educators were about students getting the help they need. In districts where more than three-quarters of students come from low-income families, 50 percent of their teachers and district leaders said they were very concerned about students receiving adequate mental health services. In districts where less than a quarter of students come from low-income families, 33 percent of educators said they were very concerned. [Correction: An earlier version of this story said low-income schools instead of low-income districts.]

Educators in private schools were significantly less worried about their students’ mental health needs being met than their counterparts in public schools—22 percent compared to 42 percent.

That said, 92 percent of district leaders say they have a plan for continuing to support students’ mental health needs even as school buildings remain shuttered. And 87 percent say that school mental health workers are continuing to meet with students; 58 percent say their district is offering students therapy online or over the phone.

But as school closures drag on in many states, student morale has sunk. Seventy-six percent of teachers and district leaders surveyed in March said that student morale was lower than before schools closed, compared to 61 percent who said the same in EdWeek’s February survey. Student engagement in coursework, however, remains stable.

The survey, conducted online in early April, includes a nationally representative sample of K-12 educators. The EdWeek Research Center is surveying educators every two weeks on how they are responding to the coronavirus.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.

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