CSBA’s COVID-19 webinar series closes with a focus on student and staff well-being
overwhelmed student sitting on ground
District and county office of education officials are looking toward the 2020–21 school year with serious concern over how to provide a safe learning environment for students and staff, as well as myriad academic and mental supports that will be necessary to move past the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time, local educational agencies in California are facing budget scenarios that will likely negatively impact programs and services offered on campus.

The final installment in CSBA’s COVID-19 webinar series featured experts from CSBA, Wellness Together School Mental Health, the California Department of Education and the Stanford Center for Youth Mental and Wellbeing discussing the importance of adapting how services are provided and improving both student and staff mental health practices during this unprecedented time.

CSBA’s COVID-19 webinar series tackled pressing questions, from new board policies and protocols to extensive state and federal guidance and waivers; the legalities and considerations involved in holding virtual board meetings; bridging the digital divide and offering high-quality distance learning; challenges surrounding special education, student well-being and more. To view webinar recordings, visit
Each panelist agreed on one thing: despite the difficult financial situation confronting districts, mental health supports must remain a priority.

“Before COVID, one of five of our students at any given time was experiencing a significant mental health problem that was impacting their learning or their ability to connect with their peers, and since March, we’ve seen the effects of social distancing on mental health,” said Wellness Together School Mental Health founder and Executive Director Marlon Morgan.

Morgan listed his five A’s when it comes to weighing program offerings and budgetary restraints:

  1. Assess what was working before COVID happened and how students were being provided with the mental health supports that they needed to learn and access the curriculum more effectively.
  2. Adapt anything that was already effective in improving student well-being when possible under current limitations. This may include reprioritizing or retraining credentialed staff already on campus to shift their focus from academic guidance to providing additional mental health supports.
  3. Amend, or cut, what cannot be adapted or what wasn’t working well.
  4. Add resources and staff in the critical area of student support, “even as many of us are being asked to make some very deep cuts financially, this would be an area to prioritize as we move forward to heal from a lot of trauma, and loss and grief that we’re seeing,” he said.
  5. Avoid cutting the only people on campus who have formal mental health training.

“This is not the time to make cuts to those services, but the time that one might really look at increasing them,” agreed Steven Adelsheim, director of the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing. “As people talk about this pandemic, there’s a great deal of discussion about the second wave being a mental health wave, and the need to ensure that we have critical supports for young people and their families going forward.”

What can governance teams do to prioritize mental health services?
Trustees play a unique role in supporting students, and the central mission of any school board is to make sure all students have access to supports not only to succeed academically, but for their mental health as well, said CSBA Education Policy Analyst Mary Briggs.

“There’s an extensive body of research that says for students to be able to learn effectively, their core needs must be met,” Briggs said. “Trauma does have an impact on the brain’s ability to learn new material and retain it, so mental health support is not an extra. It’s a foundational element that helps ensure students learn and thrive.”

During board meetings, Briggs said trustees can use their questions to drive priorities at the local level. Digging deep into the issues will provide valuable information that allows members to make decisions regarding topics such as resource allocation that will shape the coming year.

Now is also the time to review current policy and make updates when warranted, she said. To assist boards in planning for the reopening of school campuses, CSBA has released a comprehensive sample board policy available to GAMUT Policy subscribers that outlines key considerations, related to safe and sanitized facilities, attendance and enrollment, equity, special education, community-wide communication, mental health, staffing, teaching and learning.