Student Health and Wellness: A Civil Rights Issue

August 10, 2015

Every two years, the U.S. Department of Education conducts the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) to gather data on key education and civil rights issues in our nation’s public schools.

The survey addresses topics including access for classroom equity, quality instruction, access to AP courses and more. But should this survey also include health equity-related issues that address the connection between health and learning?

We say yes. Low-income children of color are more likely to miss school days due to health issues and are more likely to attend schools that do not have daily physical education or recess and have poor air quality. At Healthy Schools Campaign, our work revolves around the commonsense notions that a healthy child is a more successful student and that our public schools need to provide healthy environments that set students up for success, no matter their zip code.

With this in mind, HSC has asked the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to take steps to collect and report on issues related to health in our nation’s schools so we can better understand and better address these needs. The current survey collects important information on what goes on inside schools; however, it lacks many key indicators around the conditions of facilities, food, fitness and attendance.

This past Monday was the final day of the OCR’s comment period asking for feedback on their biannual survey to be completed next year. We encourage you to review our comments. Our vision is that as a nation, we have actionable information that can allow schools to better support student health needs. We want to understand the condition of school facilities, student access to healthy food and where students are missing the most school days. This data collection tool can help shine a light on these disparities and enable communities to address them.

In 2014, OCR added questions to the survey about chronic absenteeism and about access to school health providers. These new data points will be reported in the spring of 2016 when the 2014 survey data is released. This new information will create opportunities to better understand where students need increased access to health services, with a particular focus on supporting students with the greatest need.

By adding additional data points around nutrition, facilities and attendance, we will all be better positioned to create schools environments that support student health, and — in turn — support higher student achievement.