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Bellevue mom says impact of ‘mental health pandemic’ on kids is ignored

Desks in the classroom of teacher Jackie Sato are prepared for blended learning and teaching at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on Sept. 24, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Not only are kids failing classes at record levels without in-person learning, but their mental health is taking a hit as well, which has some local parents working hard to get kids back in school.

WA student-athlete worried about future, says high schools days ‘wasting away’

Moya Skillman is the mom of a seventh grader and a ninth grader in Bellevue, and part of a group called “School is Essential.” She says Washington students are sure to be behind students from other states that have been in school for in-person learning.

“I think a lot of these districts are faced with the fact that when the testing comes out, when reporting comes out after first quarter, second semester, all these things, the ranking for Washington state public schools is going to be absolutely bottom of the barrel compared with these other states that are open and have been open,” Skillman told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show.

Some districts, including Bellevue, have decided to not report grades or have changed the grading matrix so that students can get a 0% and still not receive an F.

“We’re in a situation where we’re trying to, you know, they’re reducing the metrics. They’re changing the math so that it makes it look like, well, you know, I mean, there was a quote the other day that if everyone’s behind, if our kids are behind and everyone’s behind, it’s all an even playing field,” Skillman said. “That’s just simply not the case. So when Washington state kids go to apply to college a year from now or even three years from now, or if you have a middle schooler and it’s seven years from now, they’re at a complete disadvantage compared to their colleagues in Arizona, in Texas, in Florida, in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, all of these other states that have been open for in person learning.”

The president of the state teachers’ union is the person who said the quote Skillman mentions. He says that while many parents are worried that their child is behind, everyone in the United States has missed “certain learning, so if everyone is quote ‘behind,’ I guess no one is behind.”

As Washington schools remain closed for health reasons, according to Gov. Inslee and state health officials, the mental health of kids and teens is at maybe an all time low, Dori says, and the number of suicides and ER visits are up.

“The statistics do not lie,” Skillman said. “You have ER visits related to mental health related issues up 24% for kids 12 and under, and then above age 12 is up to 31% compared to this time last year. So these numbers are skyrocketing. And all of these people keep saying, ‘well, but the COVID cases,’ … no one is looking at the mental health pandemic that we’re in the middle of, and that is just going to continue to escalate.”

“These are real families losing children and the ramifications that we’re going to see from this will last generations,” she added.

Teachers concerned about a return

What about teachers who are concerned about returning to the classroom and potentially getting sick?

“We love our teachers,” Skillman said. “We know, absolutely, being a teacher is one of the hardest jobs in America, in the world, quite frankly. It is a thankless job. I mean, they’re truly on the front lines of building the future. And of course, we want teachers to be safe.”

“The fact of the matter is that schools are some of the safest environments that people can be in right now,” she added. “There was a great study that just came out of New York for the month of October — 74,000 kids in a certain area and they had I think it was 65 cases. Simply the data just isn’t there to support these school closures. We know that these school environments are safer, on average, compared to even going to the grocery store.”

No one wants anyone to get COVID, she said, and no one wants anyone to be in the hospital or die from it. But, she adds, the virus is here to stay.

“We have to learn how to adapt and live with it, and we can’t just say ‘nevermind, we’ll just never have school again,'” Skillman said. “The virus isn’t going away in the spring. It’s not going away when we have the vaccine. It’s going to take months and years for widespread vaccine adoption. And we know that the data proves that schools are not super-spreader environments. We have months and months of data from across the country now, showing that the risk is low in a school.”

More than a place of learning

Skillman also pointed out that schools are more than just a place of learning for many kids.

“For all of the children in underserved areas that don’t have access to technology, where school is the only place that they would get breakfast, they would get lunch, they could have interactions with a responsible adult. They could report abuse going on in their home — all of those things. We forget the role that schools really play in the lives of so many children that are in very difficult households, and we’ve completely abandoned them,” she said.

“We have totally abandoned them by shutting down these schools. And I think, to be honest, in my opinion, that’s criminal,” she added. “You’re turning your back on thousands and millions of kids that need school as a safety net. And you’re just saying, ‘sorry, your life isn’t important.’ That’s what we’re saying to these children by keeping these schools closed: Your life isn’t as important as this person over here.”

Recognizing anxiety in kids during COVID, and how to help them cope

As far as the response from parents, Skillman says it’s been positive. From the district, she says some are willing to listen, but it’s not necessarily their decision to reopen.

“I think certain districts are willing to listen,” she said. “They feel very — their hands feel tied. This really is a state issue. We have to get together. We have to rally together and put pressure at the state level because, obviously, we’re going up [against] a very well-funded, organized machine that has a different opinion on this. And, as parents and community members, this affects everyone. Not just if you are parents — even nieces, nephews, neighbors — everyone needs to be involved in this issue. And we have to push for change.”

The well-funded machine Skillman refers to is the teachers’ union.

“Again, I adore teachers. I’m not trying to paint all of them with one color,” she said. “We have heard from a lot of teachers that do want to be back in the classroom. They want to be back with their kids as well.”

“Everyone here knows people in other states,” Skillman added. “They know that these other states are open and that kids are living mostly normal lives.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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