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Impact of COVID-19 on North Carolina’s children—Part Two

In part one of our post Impact of COVID-19 on North Carolina’s children, we highlighted the effects of remote learning during the pandemic on North Carolina’s school-aged children.

With limited available resources, many students are struggling to process and manage the affects of the last two years. Behavioral problems have increased, with more students engaged in fighting, running out of classrooms, and withdrawing from teachers by putting their heads down and refusing to talk.

Local school districts across the state struggle to find and maintain counselors and psychiatrists, a similar situation in many community clinical services. Collectively, school counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers are known as “specialized instructional support personnel” and they often work in teams to serve students. These specialized services are woefully understaffed across the state, and none meet the recommended national levels of student-to-staff ratios, specifically:

  • School nurses North Carolina records an average of one school nurse per 1,013 students. The National Association of School Nurses recommends a ratio of one school nurse for every 750 students, or at least one nurse per school. Many schools in the state do not have a full-time, permanent nurse, instead sharing one across multiple schools in the district.

  • Social workers North Carolina records an average of one social worker for 1,289 students. Recommended ratio: one social worker for every 250 students.

  • School Psychologists North Carolina records an average of one school psychologist for 1,800 students. Recommended ratio: one for 500 to 700 students.

  • School Counselors North Carolina records an average of one school counselor for 353 students. Recommended ratio: one for 250 students.

Note that the above data reflects averages across the state, and while some districts show better than average staffing ratios, many are much worse. In some cases, one school psychologist serves the entire school district, assigned to more than 5,000 students.

While the North Carolina General Assembly continues to discuss funding options, the real issue lies in creating a pipeline of potential professionals to public education positions. These positions generally require a master’s degree, yet the salary is not competitive, especially in terms of recruiting nationally. Furthermore, university cohorts are not filled. Long-term solutions must be explored to fulfill this critical need and provide trained and certified professionals to help mitigate the students’ distress.

Policy decisions were made over the last two years, with mounting population health concerns, and the best available information at the time. Many communities and school districts have not yet fully grappled with the tradeoffs and the impact of pandemic precaution measures must now be fully considered. What happens now is critical. Will we be able to supply the needed resources for our students and allow them to realize their full potential? Or will they become another tragic statistic from the COVID-19 era, a lost cohort of forgotten students, their talents, gifts, and unrealized potential forever lost?

In 2020, the North Carolina Community Action Association (NCCAA), in conjunction with our agency partners, launched a pilot program focusing on rural North Carolina. The pilot was very successful, and NCCAA is working to share with other local CAAs later this year. For additional information, contact Elle Evans Peterson, NCCAA, Director of Health Policy and Equity.

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