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September 2020 | Vol. XIX - No. 9


Back to School in the Time of COVID: Children at greater risk of mental health problems

The pandemic has put an enormous amount of mental and emotional strain on all of us, but our children may be especially affected. They may feel that they have no control over what is going on around them, and their entire world has been disrupted by the virus.[1]

Behavioral problems

Parents are observing increased behavioral problems in their children, some of whom may have already been at risk. “I’m seeing 100% more behavioral problems,” says Stanton. “My son, who has learning issues, has three meltdowns a day”.[2]

In addition to the threat of COVID, our children are dealing with a higher than normal amount of stress during this time period. It is important for schools to be prepared to provide mental health services to students and faculty alike. This would mean providing mental health treatment to anyone who is struggling with stress because of the virus, and looking out for students who show signs of distress or anxiety.[3]

As the threat of COVID-19 continues to loom over us, American children will soon be faced with a new challenge: returning to school. Many of us have questions about how this will be done while ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our children, but it is agreed almost universally that no matter how the issue of returning to school is handled, this school year will be extremely unusual for everyone involved. “This year, nothing about school will be typical. Many of the nation’s largest districts plan to start the academic year online, and it is unclear when students and teachers will be back in classrooms.”[4]

A Challenge for students and teachers

Returning to school will not only be extremely difficult for our kids, but for teachers as well: “This is the biggest adaptive challenge in my career, and in the history of public education,” said Cindy Marten, superintendent of the San Diego public schools.”[5]

Confusion continues to build

Our knowledge of the virus is still lacking, and due to a lack of leadership and conflicting information, it is uncertain whether or not our children will be safe when they return to school, “Education decisions are largely made at the local level, and leaders are relying on a host of conflicting federal, state and public health guidelines. There is still considerable uncertainty and debate over how easily children of different ages contract and spread the virus, and whether some of the recommended safety guidelines would help or are even necessary.” [6]

Six feet apart

While there is still confusion over exactly how to handle the COVID-19 crisis, what we do know is that social distancing is key to slowing the spread of the virus, “But those recommendations largely agree on at least some adaptations, and they all come down to eliminating one factor: proximity.”[7] Many schools are planning on utilizing social distancing methods, like repurposing gyms and large areas for academic work.[8]

Social distancing isn’t enough  

While social distancing measures are extremely important, they will not be enough to ensure the sagety of our children. Schools are planning to take additional steps to protect students and faculty alike, such as keeping windows open in classrooms to increase air circulation, investing in hygiene supplies, disinfecting surfaces regularly, and even upgrading HVAC units to provide air filtration features.” [9]

Changing the way our kids learn

Traditionally, students will move between classrooms from subject to subject, but instead, they will remain in self-contained pods while teachers move from class to class, minimizing the opportunity for virus transmission.[10]

Teenagers at higher risk

While potentially deadly to anyone, there are indicators that coronavirus may be more dangerous for teenagers, meaning that social distancing will be even more important for middle school and high school students. Additional safety precautions like installing plexiglass dividers between desks are also being taken.[11]

Unicef guidelines

Unicef recommends that each country should reopen schools only when it is safe to do so, in proportion with the overall Coronavirus health response, and recommends that schools stagger the start and stop times of each school day, stagger mealtimes, move classes to temporary outdoor spaces, and hold school in shifts to reduce class size.[12]

Pandemic affects people of color disproportionately

while the pandemic has been difficult for all of us, it has disproportionately affected people of color and low income families. One out of five teenagers will not be able to complete school work at home due to lack of a computer or internet connection.[13]

Masks are a must

While social distancing is absolutely necessary, some believe that as long as students wear face masks they will only have to stay three feet apart instead of six. This combined with plexiglass dividers could dramatically increase student safety in schools.

New strategies to take on COVID

In addition to implementing social distancing and mask wearing policies, there have been other safety precautions suggested to improve the safety of the classroom environment. For example, having students eat lunch at their desk instead of in crowded lunchrooms, leaving classroom doors open so that students won’t have to touch door knobs, Giving bus riders assigned seats, and marking school hallways with one-way arrows to reduce crowding.[14]

CDC evaluates strategies

The center for disease control has evaluated multiple strategies as to how children will return to school, including complete remote learning, which would be the lowest risk option, implementing a hybrid of distance learning and in person learning, and resuming school full time in person, which would involve the highest level of risk.[15]

LAUSD chooses remote learning only

Each state is handling the pandemic differently, but LAUSD and the San Diego school system have opted for complete distance learning as opposed to in person classes or a hybrid of remote and in person classes. This decision will affect approximately 825,000 students.[16]

Electronic Pacifiers

Some parents have opted to allow their children to use iPads and other electronic devices as a form of electronic babysitting. “With my daughter, the problem became addiction to the iPad. She told us, ‘I want to be on the tablet all the time because [when I am] I don’t feel so lonely.’”[17]

Children fear for their parent’s safety

Many children are well aware of the dangers older individuals face and have concerns about infecting their parents or other loved ones. “I have a grandma and a grandpa who are very old, and it can infect them and they may die,” said 4-year-old Benjy Taksa of Houston, in a very brief mom-supervised interview with TIME. [18]

What happens now?

The future of our children is extremely uncertain during this trying time. All we can hope for is that school districts will handle the pandemic responsibly and that social distancing and other safety measures will be taken seriously by faculty and students.


Goldstein, Dana. “What Back to School Might Look Like in the Age of Covid-19.” July 29, 2020. (Accessed August 28, 2020).

Unicef. “What will a return to school during the COVID-19 pandemic look like?” August 24, 2020. (Accessed August 28, 2020).

American Academy of Pediatrics. “Return to School during COVID-19.” August 19, 2020. (Accessed August 28, 2020).

Kluger, Jeffrey. “The Coronavirus Seems to Spare Most Kids From Illness, but Its Effect on Their Mental Health Is Deepening.” July 23, 2020. (Accessed August 28, 2020).

[1] Kluger, Jeffrey. “The Coronavirus Seems to Spare Most Kids From Illness, but Its Effect on Their Mental Health Is Deepening.” (July 23, 2020).
[2] Kluger, “Mental Health”
[3] AAP, “Returning to School”
[4] Goldstein, Dana. “What Back to School Might Look Like in the Age of Covid-19.” (July 29, 2020).
[5] Goldstein, “Back to School”
[6] Goldstein, “Back to School”
[7] Goldstein, “Back to School”
[8] Goldstein, “Back to School”
[9] Goldstein, “Back to School”
[10] Goldstein, “Back to School”
[11] Goldstein, “Back to School”
[12]Unicef. “What will a return to school during the COVID-19 pandemic look like?” (August 24, 2020).
[13] American Academy of Pediatrics. “Return to School during COVID-19.” (August 19, 2020).
[14] AAP, “Returning to School”
[15] Kluger, “Mental Health”
[16] Kluger, “Mental Health”
[17] Kluger, “Mental Health”
[18] Kluger, “Mental Health”

Writer's Bio: A recent college graduate in English Literature. He is a talented researcher and technical writer. Read more articles by this author


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