School & District Management

Student Mental Health and Learning Loss Continue to Worry Principals

By Denisa R. Superville — January 15, 2021 3 min read
Student sitting alone with empty chairs around her.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Almost a year into the coronavirus pandemic, nearly half of elementary school leaders say they haven’t received training on proper coronavirus health screening in schools from health experts.

And the same percentage—49 percent—say they still do temperature checks for those entering school buildings or boarding school buses — even though those have been deemphasized among health experts as useful screening practice. A higher percentage— 78 percent — use at-home symptom screening which allow parents to review their children’s and family members’ symptoms and possible exposure to positive coronavirus cases.

Those are among the findings in a survey released this week from the National Association of Elementary School Principals in its third poll of lower and middle school leaders since schools began shutting down last March because of the pandemic.

The results are similar to some recent reports on educators’ perspectives on pressing issues and continuing challenges for school leaders during this unusual school year. Among them: the need for additional mental health supports for students, troubling attendance rates among students learning remotely, and a call for more financial assistance to help schools and districts assist students who are behind academically.

The results of this survey reaffirm the enormous challenges that principals are facing in trying to lead learning communities in the middle of a pandemic.

Remote learning attendance—especially for students who don’t have the internet at home or who had attendance issues before the pandemic—continues to worry school and district leaders, the survey results show. Eighty-two percent of school leaders who responded said the pandemic had impacted student attendance.

And while those attendance issues are likely to compound learning loss—particularly among the most disadvantaged students—school leaders’ responses to the survey indicate that they didn’t have the staff or intervention programs in place to help those students get back on track. Only 8 percent thought they were setting aside significant sums of money to assist students who’re behind.

Schools have also adapted to the unusual 2020-21 school year to reflect changes in their communities:

  • 51 percent had adjusted their main mode of schooling since the start of the academic year—most likely a reflection of rising or declining coronavirus cases in the community as well as evolving science on how COVID-19 spreads and children’s role in spreading the disease.

  • Nearly all—99 percent—said they had developed quarantine and isolation protocols for staff and students.

  • 95 percent said they had ways to get reliable information and data on COVID-19 in their state and region.

  • And 95 percent said their staff wore masks at all times in school, while 91 percent said their students wore masks.

Outdoor Classrooms Not Widely Used

On the other hand, many schools have not improved ventilation. Only 59 percent said they’ve increase ventilation in classrooms, and few (23 percent) are holding some or all classes outdoors. (The survey did not ask why that was the case, but many schools can’t hold classes outdoor because of the weather, and ventilation upgrades are expensive, especially in old school buildings.)

The survey results are based on responses from 860 NAESP members.

NAESP Executive Director L. Earl Franks said the results “reaffirm the enormous challenges that principals are facing in trying to lead learning communities in the middle of a pandemic.”

“Whether it is implementing procedures to keep staff and students safe, trying to ensure reliable home internet access for students, addressing student learning loss, or boosting mental health and trauma sensitivity supports for students, principals are having to do more with less,” Franks said.

Franks added that while the recently passed coronavirus relief package would go a long way toward helping educators address some of those challenges, schools need more financial assistance in the longer term to counteract the fallout from the pandemic in schools.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Deepen the Reach and Impact of Your Leadership
This webinar offers new and veteran leaders a unique opportunity to listen and interact with four of the most influential educational thinkers in North America. With their expert insights, you will learn the key elements
Content provided by Solution Tree
Science K-12 Essentials Forum Teaching Science Today: Challenges and Solutions
Join this event which will tackle handling controversy in the classroom, and making science education relevant for all students.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Stronger Together: Integrating Social and Emotional Supports in an Equity-Based MTSS
Decades of research have shown that when schools implement evidence-based social and emotional supports and programming, academic achievement increases. The impact of these supports – particularly for students of color, students from low-income communities, English
Content provided by Illuminate Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion Trust Keeps Our School-Research Relationship Alive in the Pandemic
An educator and a researcher describe how their team was able to nudge forward a plan for equity even as COVID changed almost everything.
Katherine Mortimer & Scott Gray
3 min read
Illustration of coworkers analyzing data.
School & District Management Opinion The Empty Pageantry of Education Research
Educators and researchers must do their homework to defeat perverse incentives, advise Rick Hess and Mike Goldstein.
Rick Hess & Mike Goldstein
5 min read
Illustration of magnifying glass and school buildings.
James Steinberg for Education Week
School & District Management Opinion Don’t Let Education Research Languish in Academic Journals
How can we move research into the real world of schools? Scholar John Papay explains.
John Papay
3 min read
Illustration of woman using telescope.
School & District Management Letter to the Editor Administrators Need Understanding, Support, and Care
"When administrators have difficulty, challenges, or mental obstacles, we feel so alone and isolated," writes an assistant principal.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.