RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A research report from a group of UNC-Chapel Hill Public Policy students and recent alumni found North Carolina schools were largely underprepared for the return of school.

The students found people were facing higher rates of anxiety in the last few months.

That was credited to the finding that counties with greater probabilities of COVID-19 deaths were more likely to have higher poverty rates. Census data found 61 percent of households who were making under $25,000 a year saw a loss in income. Only a third of homes making more than $100,000 reported a loss of income.

The report said people in poverty stricken communities saw greater rates of food and housing insecurity as well

It’s a combination, UNC researchers said that has impacts on children as they return to school this fall. They said as students prepare for a new school year “they will have unique physical, mental, and behavioral health needs”.

The students researchers found counties with the highest concentrations of COVID-19 cases were largely the least prepared to support students this fall semester.

In their report, UNC-Chapel Hill researchers analyzed school nurses, school counselors, and school psychologists in county school boards. They said they compared those numbers to nationally recommended ratios.

They found:

  • 54 percent failed to meet recommendation ratios for school nurses
  • 91 percent failed to meet recommendation ratios for guidance counselors
  • 98 percent failed to meet recommendation ratios for school psychologists

The student research team developed their own Support Index to determine a school district’s ability to support students. The scale was from 1.5, meaning less support personnel, to 26.6, meaning more support personnel.

In the top 10 counties with the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases, Durham Public Schools were the most prepared with a score of 4.82 on the index. Meanwhile, they still exceeded the number of students recommended per nurse, guidance counselor and psychologist.

County school districts in places with fewer COVID-19 cases were more likely to have more support personnel. On the list of 10 counties with the fewest cases, six were at a yellow meaning they had better support. Even so several did not have psychologists and some who did were still flagged as red.

The research group said under staffing of these critical positions was not new. Schools have always struggled to bring in adequate support personnel. With the pandemic exasperating the needs to have these support staff available, UNC researchers hoped the data could be used to encourage decision makers to invest more dollars into these positions.