Back to School

Dear Colleague,

September 3, 2021

Back to school is a busy time for families, marked by traditions, excitement, and anxiety.

This year is a back-to-school time like no other. Many students are experiencing the negative impacts of the pandemic and long absences from in-person learning. We can all support schools in helping students, teachers, and staff recover and thrive.

The 2020-2021 school year brought disruption to school staff and students. Regardless of the mode of learning—virtual or in-person—few students will be coming back to school this Fall unaffected by their experiences related to COVID-19. We know that social isolation increases loneliness, depression, and other mental health issues. We know from our data that some families of children receiving virtual instruction experienced more stress and worries and had poorer mental and emotional health than those receiving in-person instruction. We also know that schools will need to be prepared to address these challenges while keeping students safe and that all of our support will be necessary.

Schools play a critical role in supporting adolescent health and well-being. They provide academic learning, as well as opportunities to connect youth to needed services and to peers and important adults in a way that can improve mental, physical, and emotional health outcomes.​ CDC has a long history of supporting schools to improve adolescent health and well-being, and we continue to provide school districts with support as they implement evidence-based strategies to help young people thrive.

Our evidence-based program focuses on three strategies that schools can use to protect adolescent health: providing quality health education, connecting youth to health services, and creating safe and supportive school environments. We have available tools and resources to help schools implement these strategies.

  • School-based health education can help youth acquire knowledge and skills to adopt and maintain healthy behaviors throughout their lives.
    • Our newly revised Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (or HECAT), can assist schools in selecting or developing effective health education curricula and improve the delivery of health education. The HECAT can be customized to meet local community needs and conform to the curriculum requirements of the state or school district.
  • Health services access can help students easily find mental health and other health services, likely needed more acutely now because of the pandemic.
    • We are helping schools refer students to mental health services to cope with COVID-related challenges.
    • CDC has awarded CARES Act funds to school districts to hire additional mental health staff, and to fund non-profits to focus on student mental health and parent support in response to long-term closures.
    • CDC also awarded American Rescue Plan funds, through the Crisis Response Cooperative Agreement, to health departments and state and local entities to hire additional school nurses and other school health staff.
  • Creating safe and supportive environments is crucial to helping students recover from the impact of the pandemic. CDC helps schools implement practices to create safe and supportive environments that have been shown to reduce sexual risk, reduce substance use and experience of violence, and improve mental health. Tools just launched to assist schools in bolstering safe and supportive environments include:
    • Classroom Management tool provides a summary of the classroom management approaches and skills that research suggests can strengthen school connectedness. It includes example strategies, tools, and templates school staff can use to apply these approaches in their face-to-face, virtual, or blended learning modes.
    • LGBTQ Inclusivity Tool  pdf iconis designed to assist schools and districts in addressing the health and academic needs of LGBTQ students. This self-assessment tool was created to help school and district staff understand current policies, programs, and practices that may contribute to safe, inclusive environments where all youth can be successful.

This back-to-school season, we honor the teachers, parents, and caregivers that are helping students thrive during a time of perseverance.


/Kathleen Ethier/

Kathleen Ethier, PhD
Division of Adolescent and School Health
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


/Jonathan Mermin/

Jonathan H. Mermin, MD, MPH
Rear Admiral and Assistant Surgeon General, USPHS
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Get Tested - Search for HIV Testing Services
Atlas Plus - Explore Interactive CDC Data
CDC 24/7 - Protecting America's Safety, Health, and Security
Page last reviewed: September 3, 2021