Returning to School: What is the Impact?

After over a year of virtual learning, some schools have returned to in-person education, and many will be re-opening within the coming weeks. Re-openings aren’t happening all at once. School districts are handling re-openings differently, phasing students in, if at all. San Diego Unified has announced a reopening for all grade levels on April 12th, however it is dependent on California getting out of a purple tier, as well as school staff being vaccinated. (San Diego Tribune). Some districts have other plans. Preschoolers and special needs students in Seattle Public Schools will delay returning to school until late March. (KomoNews). The reality is, too many students have not gotten the services they need, and the slow start still leaves families questioning, “What now?”


There’s a lot of catchup to do. The nationwide learning losses, referred to as the “Covid slide” leave students behind in math, reading, and other subjects. Many special needs students who did not receive services for months have fallen greatly behind, some in essential skills in speech, basic knowledge, and/or motor skills. 


The effects of a year away differ depending on age and grade level. “Kindergarteners may have missed the building blocks of early literacy, and basic steps in social development. High school seniors, meanwhile, will transition to young adulthood, jobs and college without most of the milestones the senior year usually promises.” (San Diego Tribune). While nearly all students have faced some learning loss, particularly vulnerable students–special needs, English learners, and low-income–are the most deeply affected. 


The effects of the shutdown spread much wider than merely academic. Students have experienced anxiety, depression, family distress, and even bereavement for some. Transitioning to learning at home was an adjustment, and the same will be true for transitioning back to school. School days may have to focus on building morale, teaching social interaction, and being sensitive to the emotional toll the past year had on students. 


In addition, schools will need help in this transition. Due to learning losses, we can anticipate that so many students will need more individual care and attention. “Educators said schools need more hands on deck, with additional teachers and counselors, and reduced class sizes to allow more individual attention for students.” (San Diego Tribune). 


Carolyn Heinrich, Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Public Policy and Education at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development says,


“The school districts that are most challenged to meet the educational needs of all students equitably during the pandemic are those that have long been resource-constrained and that serve families at greater health and economic risks at this time. These school districts are going to need additional resources to meet health and nutrition as well as educational needs that have been exacerbated by the pandemic as they bring all students back to in-person learning.” (Vanderbilt University). 


Schools will need extra support to get students back to grade level. The Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports outlines five key practices for educators to follow upon re-opening school. 


Connect – Check in on each student’s current family conditions. What have the families experienced that may impact the student’s emotional health and academic performance? Keep these relations ongoing; regular communication builds trust and influences decisions about student support. 

Screen – Identify which children need the most support. What specific areas will they need it most? Particularly for students with special needs, use academic and/or functional behavioral assessment data to identify strengths and needs. Click here to learn more. 


Support – Provide a safe and predictable environment for students. This can look like setting an explicit routine, providing positive feedback, and teaching connections between home and school expectations. A lot of students are returning with emotional baggage. Keep this at the forefront of your mind. Consider the whole child when teaching: their social, emotional, and academic needs. 


Teach – Actively engage students with many opportunities to respond. Having had less structure for a year, students may need more reinforcement in expectations and feedback on their performance. Reinforcing Social-Emotional-Behavioral (SEB) skills is essential. 


Monitor – Students will need continued monitoring for health, academic growth, and SEB. Individual monitoring will help educators determine where and how much support will be needed. 


For detailed examples from PBIS of how to carry out these practices in a classroom setting, click here.


Students with existing IEPs should be at the top of the “watch list”. These are our most vulnerable students. Goals they had before school closures likely need to be updated. The reality facing them is that the skills they had last year have probably regressed, especially since the disruption of their services. Many will need re-evaluations to assess exactly what their greatest areas of need are. This can be done with the school or independently. IEPready provides multidisciplinary independent evaluations that can get a child on the road to growth. 


No more time can be wasted for our children. If you’re an educator or advocate and would like to partner with us today, click here to get in touch with us. 

If you’re a parent and would like information on an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE), click here.

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