Reports From the Frontlines: Rethinking a Return to Normal

June 16, 2021

What did we learn from the past year? View or listen to “Reports From the Frontlines: A Conversation on Keeping School Buildings Safe, Students Healthy and Families Informed During COVID and Beyond.” Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages



The past year has been full of significant challenges that upended expectations and norms concerning every aspect of schools and learning.

What if, in the wake of this great unsettling, we did more than “return to normal”? What if we used this disruption as a stimulus to create opportunity for every young person to thrive?

That question kicked off a recent Healthy Schools Campaign event that explored how school health service providers, school facilities staff, and communities and families responded to school building closures and where they see the greatest opportunities and challenges in the coming school year.

Joaquin Tamayo, EducationCounsel senior policy advisor and HSC board member, moderated an insightful and reflective conversation with featured guests:

  • Kimberly Thomas, Senior Director of Services, Facilities Management Division, The University of Georgia
  • Eva Stone, Director of Health Services, Jefferson County Public (Ky.) Schools
  • Kenneth Varner, Community Engagement Manager, Healthy Schools Campaign

The panelists shared the surprises they encountered — from supply chain disruptions that caused a shortage of paper products, to the magnitude of work involved with contact tracing — and the ways schools pivoted to provide healthcare and food during school building closures.

Screenshot from video: Reports From the Frontlines virtual event
Clockwise from upper left: Joaquin Tamayo, Kimberly Thomas, Kenneth Varner, Eva Stone

One bright spot was the swift implementation of state and federal policies that expanded access to telehealth services and school meals — changes that are likely to become more permanent. Recent federal funding to improve air quality in school buildings and hire more school nurses will also have a lasting impact on student health.

Much work, of course, remains. Tamayo pointed to the inequalities in society and in education that were exposed during the pandemic.

“The reality is the United States education system was not designed for equity. It was designed for inequitable access to learning opportunities based on your race, your income, your gender, your language and your culture,” said Tamayo. “These forces cry out for a redesign of all the systems in places that support our young people and their families and educate and prepare them for the future.”

View or listen to the conversation to learn how schools and families are finding opportunities, both big and small, to reimagine and redesign a more equitable and healthy learning environment.

Here are links to resources and publications mentioned during the discussion:

Providing Health Services During School Closures
Published in March, this HSC issue brief examines the challenges schools encountered while providing physical, behavioral and mental health services during the pandemic and offers extensive recommendations for state and federal agencies in advance of future closures.

Healthy Green Schools & Colleges’ Guidelines for COVID-19 Cleaning and Disinfection
Provides K-12, college and university facility, custodial and housekeeping managers actionable best practices to keep school communities safe.

In-Person Learning Guide for Parents and Caregivers
Drawing on both public health and CPS safety guidelines, this HSC resource aims to help parents and caregivers answer the question: Is my school taking the right steps to keep students safe?

HSC School Reopening Resource Hub
Additional resources for parents, teachers, K-12 schools, higher education and custodial staff.

Planning for the Next Normal: Keeping Students, Staff and Families Safe and Healthy at School
This Kaiser Permanente playbook offers an evolving collection of recommendations, co-authored by Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Action for Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools Campaign, SHAPE America, and FutureEd, to address the total health needs of the school community for in-person and virtual learning environments. 

Wellbeing Website & Mental/Emotional Wellbeing Resources
University of Georgia created a collection of resources for its employees to help manage health, stress and financial wellbeing.