School districts across the country are focusing on students’ mental health as much as academic achievement as they prepare to reopen and as more than a third of K-12 learners return to classrooms by the end of this week.
Administrators of some 6,000 school districts plan to spend $90 billion in federal grants on mental health resources for employees, students and their families, as well as on COVID prevention and mitigation, after-school tutoring and IT upgrades for remote instruction, the tracking website Burbio says.
California psychologist Thomas Plante, a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) says it will take years to heal the wounds of young people who felt isolated during three years of COVID restrictions.
“While it is terrific that schools are working hard to deal effectively with the challenges that starting the new school year will bring, we also have to be mindful of having reasonable expectations,” Mr. Plante said. “The problems they are facing are enormous due to COVID, large teacher shortages, fears of school gun violence, political divisiveness, discrimination, inflation, book banning, parents micromanaging teachers and the negative influences of social media.”
He noted that Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Friday that the share of children who report feeling “consistently sad and hopeless” increased from 36% before the pandemic to 44% after it. (Dr. Murthy addressed the APA’s annual convention in Minneapolis.)
“He also said that on average, it takes 11 years for a child to get mental health care once they express a need for it,” said Mr. Plante, a Santa Clara University professor.
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“Many kids during the pandemic lost loved ones, have become orphans, or themselves have ongoing COVID consequences,” Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said in an email. “The pandemic has taken a toll on all.”
The Burbio website noted that many school districts will be reopening facilities by tapping federal grants from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER III) program authorized under the American Rescue Plan.
Clinical psychologist Michael Adamse, based in Boca Raton, Florida, said that weaning kids from screens — a key component of distance learning — will be a key challenge for parents.
“Since online entertainment will be a strong pull that will likely compromise study habits, parents can do their part by restricting time online,” said Mr. Adamse, who hosts a weekly National Public Radio show on mental health.
But parental rights advocates who opposed school lockdowns during the past three years say officials can do one thing to ensure students’ success: keep the schools open.
“We don’t need more computers. We don’t need more mitigation. We need more freedom for our kids to be kids,” said Kimberly Fletcher, president of the conservative nonprofit Moms for America. “Drop the masks, stop the intimidation, purge the politics and scare tactics and start giving our children the quality education they deserve in an environment where they will live to learn.”
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.