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Penn State PRO Wellness researchers identify school staff concerns in reopening safely during pandemic

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Concerns about the feasibility of social distancing, resurgences of COVID-19 and uncertain availability of health supplies were the major concerns school staff had with reopening schools during the 2020-2021 academic year, according to Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State PRO Wellness researchers. Identifying and understanding worries of staff may help school communities and national organizations address ongoing gaps and changing needs as schools continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced widespread school closures of physical buildings and traditional, in-person instruction in the spring of 2020. More than 124,000 U.S. public and private schools were closed for the remainder of the school year resulting in months of missed in-person instruction for more than 55 million children.

“Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and provide students with academic learning, reliable nutrition and mental health services,” said Dr. Deepa Sekhar, associate professor of pediatrics. “As a result, many organizations were advocating that policy decisions for the 2020-2021 school year focus on the goal of having students physically present in classrooms as much as possible.”

Sekhar and a team of researchers partnered with the American School Health Association to design and distribute a survey between May and June 2020 to more than 7,460 school staff members nationwide. The team analyzed results from 375 school staff representing 45 states, who indicated their level of concerns about the physical environment, health services and mental health challenges at the individual child, school and community levels.

Sekhar said the goal was to identify areas of concern related to school reopening and provide that information to national organizations in order to initiate dialogue about how schools could be reopened safely.

“The information we’ve collected remains relevant today as schools continue to transition between virtual, hybrid and in-person instruction based on the rates of COVID-19 transmission in their communities,” Sekhar said.

Krista Pattison, Alicia Hoke, Eric Schaefer and Jeanie Alter of Penn State College of Medicine also contributed to this research. The authors declare no conflicts of interest or financial support for this research.

Read the full study in the Journal of School Health

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