Jaimee Hall: When all students return for in-person learning, we need to make sure we have the mental health supports they need

March 1, 2021

What should a parent do when school opening may be around the corner and your child is doing better with remote learning? 

That’s where I find myself with my 1st grader. Even before the pandemic, my daughter did not like going to school. She has never been a fan of classrooms or school, and while she has no problem making friends, she doesn’t like large groups of people.

COVID-19 and being home has still been traumatic for me and my daughter — just like it has been for everyone else. She now has severe separation anxiety, doesn’t want to leave the house, and is begging me to homeschool her. Yet academically, my daughter is still above grade level in reading and math, and the pandemic has put her in a situation where virtual school is better for her and she is happier.

The reality is that my daughter will have to go back to school eventually, so what my daughter needs — and what all DC students need — is increased mental health support. What the city provided before the pandemic was woefully insufficient, and now that our children have been without social interaction, may have lost family members, and experienced trauma, we must do more.

First, schools need more mental health staff. Because all students will need support in some form, we must ensure smaller staff-to-student ratios at every school. 

Second, schools need a school-wide plan for addressing mental health and social-emotional needs for all students, and some students, like mine, will need thorough and specific plans. Schools must remember to include parent and family voice in developing these plans and make the decisions that are best for students’ mental health above anything else. 

Students have had to adapt to many things this year, including transitioning from in-person learning to virtual learning, and, soon, back to in-person learning again — all on top of the trauma of the pandemic. Schools can help meet growing student mental health needs, but it requires a citywide investment.

By Jaimee Hall, Citywide Board member and Ward 7 PLE Board member