The kids are not OK. Our children are struggling physically, emotionally and academically as a result of virtual and hybrid schooling.
That 10th grade boy, the AP honors student and three-season athlete who became depressed, anxious and suicidal? We took care of him after he overdosed.
That sixth-grader who stopped coming out of her room? No one noticed her eating disorder with mom on second shift and dad unemployed and drinking all day. We took care of her when she needed a feeding tube.
The second-grader who has ADHD that, treated with medication and home and school strategies, was doing well but at every visit since being virtual has gained 10 pounds because of snacking, screen time and lack of exercise? We are taking care of him. The kids are not OK.
Our experiences are mirrored by national data. In a recent CDC survey, parents perceived worsening mental and physical health for children enrolled in virtual schooling. More screen time and less physical activity causes sleep problems resulting in poor concentration, low mood and anxiety. Depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts are increasing.
These increases in mental health problems are so profound that it is nearly impossible to get in to see a therapist and waiting lists locally have tripled. Even suicidal kids can wait months to see someone.
Children of color are disproportionately affected by not being in school. Without action, the inequity will continue to grow. Not surprisingly, virtual instruction is more likely to be reported by non-white parents and those enrolled in public versus private school. In-person education and the health benefits that come along with it should not be a privilege.
We cannot be a generation that prioritized leisure activities over the well-being of our children. In-person, five-day education is essential. Bars and comedy clubs are open, wedding receptions can include 200 people but children aren’t going to school? Kids can play football but not go to algebra?
There will never be zero Covid cases in schools while there are cases in the community. However, both nationally and locally in-school transmission is extremely low, even when rates are high in the community. Only a handful of the Erie County school cases reported weekly are infections that happened at school. Most of them would have gotten it even if the kids were still virtual or hybrid because they’re not getting infected at school. This is the science.
Variants may present new challenges and we will meet those. The concern about them, though, is theoretical while the consequences of not having in-person school are real, are happening, and are devastating. As a community, we need to make a commitment to our next generation. The kids are not OK. But if we prioritize in-person education, they will be.
Dr. Rebecca Schaeffer is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and Dr. Lauren Kuwik is an internist and pediatrician. They represent Physicians for Safe and Open Schools.