The Tennessee Department of Education released the initial COVID-19 impact report, which provides context and data on the impact extended school closure has on the wellbeing of students and the current effect the global pandemic had on children and families.

The initial COVID-19 impact report contains valuable data around the effects of the coronavirus had on children's physical, mental and emotional health when schools closed in the spring and also the impact it continues to have.

In response to the pandemic’s long-term effects on Tennessee’s school districts and students, Gov. Bill Lee charged state Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn with convening the 38-member COVID-19 child wellbeing task force. The goal of the task force is to ensure that the needs of Tennessee children are met during and after extended periods away from school and to empower local communities to meaningfully engage in ways that support child wellbeing.

"COVID-19 has had a massive impact on all aspects of our lives, particularly the education of students. Many of the real challenges we faced pre-pandemic have only been exacerbated in the past few months, and they a require a thoughtful, long-term strategy," said Lee. "The findings in this report will help inform the Child Wellbeing Task Force's efforts to best support Tennessee's students, families, and educators in the months ahead."

While the extent of the pandemic is not yet known, the initial COVID-19 impact report key findings highlight trends that were uncovered, including:

• Economic, physical and mental health are interconnected and during times of crisis, may contribute to childhood adversity. Childhood adversity can have long-term chronic physical and mental health related impacts such as depression, suicide attempts, substance abuse and lung disease.

• Experienced family stress such as unemployment may contribute to increased rates of domestic violence, substance abuse and child abuse as was evident during previous national disasters and crises.

• Nationally, the pandemic has impacted populations disproportionately, raising concern of a widening equity gap.

• In Tennessee, during peak stay-at-home orders, reports of suspected child abuse dropped by 27%, in large part due to mandatory reporters such as teachers and pediatricians disconnected from children and families.

• Seventy-six percent of Tennessee district leaders and 55% of public responders identified technology and hardware as a top COVID-19 related need.

“Schools play a critical role in supporting students’ physical and mental health, and we have seen more students have gone hungry, suicide rates have increased, abuse cases have gone unreported, and critical health and counseling services have halted due to the global pandemic,” said Schwinn. “The work of the child wellbeing task Force, in partnership with state and local leaders, is essential to ensuring the academic and non-academic needs of our kids are met as we continue to fight this virus together.”

The child wellbeing task force developed the report in collaboration with Lee, Tennessee agencies and national experts.  The report was written using available data at the time and will be updated as new data becomes available. National and Tennessee-specific data are provided in the report to provide deeper contextual understanding.  

The task force will convene monthly meetings August through December and operates with the following concrete objectives:

• empowering local implementation to identify local infrastructure, relationships and resources to promote supports for students and families.

• supporting rapid response for late summer and back-to-school to develop a set of action items that local communities may use through the summer and throughout the traditional back-to-school season to support the needs of children.

• determining ongoing support for the 2020-2021 school year to develop a set of action items that local communities may use to support the needs of children when school resumes in the fall.

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