Reopening vs. Re-entry: What’s the Difference?

As districts across the U.S. await government guidance for finalizing a COVID-19 school re-entry plan, they are already working around the clock to prepare for various scenarios.
While it may be tempting to reopen and quickly catch up with curriculum to make up for lost time, basic physiological student needs must be addressed before effective learning can resume. Although the threat of children experiencing severe illness from COVID-19 appears to be minimal, the younger population is more vulnerable to the short- and long-term implications a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic can have on learning, cognitive development, and mental health.

This increased risk is why there’s been such an emphasis on a multi-faceted approach to COVID-19 school re-entry. In this post, we’ll explore the difference between re-entry and reopening, and share how some districts are preparing.

What’s the Difference Between Reopening and Re-entry?

Reopening is a broad term. Schools could reopen but hold all classes completely virtually. Or, schools could reopen and resume in-person classes with safety precautions in place, but maintain as much “normalcy” as possible.

Re-entry is a term focused on the transition for those who have been away for an extended period of time. Specifically, in preparation for a return to face-to-face learning, states, districts, and schools are planning to address a variety of needs beyond physical health, including:

  • Academics
  • Environment and infection control
  • Social, emotional, and mental health (teachers and students)
  • Special considerations for vulnerable populations (teachers and students)

The American Academy of Pediatrics has outlined guidance for schools planning for COVID-19 school re-entry. The organization emphasizes the importance of face-to-face learning, and provides age-appropriate considerations to do so as safely and effectively as possible. They’ve devoted a whole section to “Behavioral Health/Emotional Support for Children and Adolescents”, underlining the importance of addressing mental health upon COVID-19 school re-entry.

“Preparation for infection control is vital and admittedly complex during an evolving pandemic. But the emotional impact of the pandemic, financial/employment concerns, social isolation, and growing concerns about systemic racial inequity — coupled with prolonged limited access to critical school-based mental health services and the support and assistance of school professionals — demands careful attention and planning as well. Schools should be prepared to adopt an approach for mental health support.” – American Academy of Pediatrics

Before schools can effectively work to catch up with curriculum, they must help students process events related to the COVID-19 pandemic at both an emotional and cognitive level to help minimize the risk of long-lasting trauma and set them up for successful learning.

How Districts Are Preparing with COVID-19 School Re-entry Plans

As schools approach reopening, many have a plan for identifying and addressing social/emotional, behavioral, and mental health concerns—whether they open in-person or remotely, but especially those preparing for re-entry. States and districts throughout the country are forming task forces to handle various concerns, including social and emotional care.

For example, Montana has recommended that schools/districts create an “Emergency Operation Team” (EOP), with leads in four recovery areas: Academic programming, physical and structural environment, business environment, and social, emotional and behavioral. You can reference their full guidelines here. A few specific recommendations surrounding social, emotional, and behavioral health include:

  • Provide training and resources for educators on recovering from traumatic events
  • Notify teachers, staff, students, and parents about support services available
  • Refer students to support services as needed
  • Generate a mental health status report

Many districts, like Montana’s model, have begun planning professional development for staff that covers typical childhood reactions to stress and trauma. Some, like Maryland, are also planning on training students. Maryland is creating classroom lessons, both virtual and face-to-face, for students at all grade levels to help address their social-emotional needs. Don’t miss Kognito’s Friend2Friend simulation if you are looking for a student mental health curriculum solution.

Another solution that Delaware is working on is a mental health screening for all students and staff. Just as the temperature checks and questionnaires that have become common practice aim to help prevent COVID-19 spread, this mental health screening could help identify and treat mental health crisis. The state is also recommending ongoing wellness assessments as a proactive approach to addressing mental health concerns.

Action to Address Social /Emotional/Mental Health Upon Re-entry  

How it Can Help

Trauma-informed training for staff  

Teachers and staff can learn how to identify and communicate with at-risk students


Mental health gatekeeping training for staff  

Recognize warning signs, motivate students to seek support, refer at-risk students


Mental health training for students  

Reduced stigma, more active help-seeking behaviors


Referrals to support services  

At-risk students can connect with mental health professionals for treatment


Promote mental health services to students and parents  

Reduced stigma and increased awareness of offerings


School-wide mental health screening  

Mental health concerns can be identified and addressed


Preparing Teachers and Staff for COVID-19 School Re-entry

One of the AAP’s recommendations, which schools like those mentioned above are planning for, is to provide staff training on “how to talk to and support children during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.” This training should help educators understand how and when to refer students to mental health professionals, and how to effectively communicate with these students.

According to a Gallup poll, nearly three in 10 (29%) say their child is “already experiencing harm” to their emotional or mental health because of social distancing and closures. Another 14% indicate their children are approaching their limits, saying they could continue social distancing a few more weeks until their mental health suffers.

Getting started with a mental health gatekeeper professional development training and trauma-informed training can be quick and done in a way that adapts to the uncertainty of the coming school year. With simulations, completion online or in combination with in-person collaboration in a blended learning format can help prepare all teachers and staff for a COVID-19 school re-entry plan. Kognito’s Trauma-Informed Practices for K12 Schools is an interactive role-play simulation that builds educators’ awareness of the impact of trauma and helps them gain skills to help them better support at-risk students.

In preparation for your COVID-19 school re-entry plan, this 45-minute simulation:

  • Gives educators a better understanding of trauma
  • Helps educators learn how to recognize trauma
  • Equips educators with skills to lead impactful conversations

Kognito’s At-Risk for Elementary, Middle, and High School Educators is an interactive role-play simulation that builds awareness, knowledge, and skills about mental health, and prepares users to lead real-life conversations
with students.

In preparation for your COVID-19 school re-entry plan, this hour-long simulation prepares educators to:

  • Increase knowledge and awareness about student mental health and suicide
  • Identify warning signs of psychological distress, including verbal, behavioral, and situational clues
  • Lead conversations with students to discuss concerns, build resilience, and increase connectedness
  • Assess the need for referral, motivate the student to seek help, and make a warm hand-off to support

Bring Trauma-Informed Practices and Mental Health Skills to Your School Re-Entry Plan

Kognito simulations can be deployed in less than one week, so you can give your teachers knowledge and skills they can quickly put into practice. Plus, the interactive simulation is completely online, so they can access it from any device, anywhere.

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