For all the talk about the pandemic’s impact on academic achievement, the coronavirus crisis remains at its core a public health emergency, one that schools will have to address before they can begin helping students recover from lost learning opportunities. A new brief shares how the influx of federal aid for public schools, totaling nearly $190 billion approved over the past 15 months, can help schools and districts navigate two key health priorities.

The first is ensuring that buildings are safe and healthy environments for students to learn and educators to teach. This is particularly important with COVID cases surging again and many families worried about sending their unvaccinated children back to in-person classrooms. To keep them safe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has renewed its recommendations for wearing masks inside schools and recommends that schools and districts continue to provide the protective equipment, physical space and contact tracing needed to contain the spread of the virus.

The second priority is addressing the broader health needs of children, particularly mental health concerns, so that students can recover from both the academic and social-emotional effects of the pandemic. Research and experience tell us that healthy students are better learners. They attend school more regularly, focus better in class and develop strong relationships with peers and teachers.

Recognizing these health needs is particularly important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom have experienced the worst of the pandemic. Many children haven’t seen a doctor in the past year, missing regular well-child visits. An estimated one in five students has missed key vaccinations needed to prevent childhood diseases. Other children have gone hungry when parents lost jobs and wages needed to support the family. And many others have suffered trauma from losing loved ones, moving to a new home or simply losing touch with friends and teachers.

Read the full article about COVID relief funds by Phyllis W. Jordan at The 74.