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The most important thing we can is to provide mental health support to students: Calif. superintendent

Providing mental-health support is one the most important things schools can do to help children returning to in-person learning this fall, says Tony Thurmond, California state superintendent of public instruction.

“There’s no question this has been probably the toughest time that most of us will experience in our lifetimes, and our kids have felt it like the rest of us. We’ve been socially isolated and we’ve seen among our students an increase in depression and in some cases suicide. So we know that right now, the most important thing we can do, especially as we’re celebrating mental-health awareness month this month, is to provide mental health support and social support for our students,” he told Yahoo Finance Live.

One of the biggest problems with virtual learning amid the pandemic has been the number of children missing from virtual learning. Thurmond tells Yahoo Finance that educators must reach out to the communities most impacted by the pandemic.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to re-engage our families, bring them back. Some of our families are afraid to come back. We’ve seen this in the LatinX community and the African-American community communities that were the hardest hit by the pandemic. And those who lost a lot — family members — many are concerned about coming back, but we’re sending messages to families that we have access to vaccines and rapid COVID and that it is safe to be back based on the research that we now have,” he said.

Mayur Kakade via Getty Images

California is not only looking to address the mental health of school-age children but also young adults as well. Thurmond says that the state is working through a potential $3 billion investment in mental health services for young people from birth through age 25.

Helping people access care is another hurdle, Thurmond says. “We have to work through the stigma. We have to make sure families are aware of it. One of the biggest challenges in the pandemic is the limit on computers and access to the internet. That also means limits on telehealth for families who would need access to mental health providers,” he explained.

Thurmond tells Yahoo Finance that it is not only the students returning to school who will need mental and emotional support but also teachers and staff.

“We have to provide training and professional development to all of our staff. Let’s face it ... they also have experienced trauma coming back to school. Even though we can be open, we know that things are going to be really different and we need to consider that as well. If you’re coming back to school and you’re wearing a face mask, there’s some social distancing. As a people we’re not used to being distanced, we’re used to being connected. And so our social emotional support programs have to be for teachers and for classified staff and for students and families.”

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.

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