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It’s Time to Put Children First

The New York Times woke up this week to the biggest underreported story of 2021. 

Children are in crisis across the country as a direct consequence of Covid-19 protocols. 

As I wrote back in September, the CT Department of Education (only one among many states to issue such findings) issued a report detailing student outcomes on tests run by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Not surprisingly, the results indicate that students in Grades 3- 8 who were in-person for 75 percent or more of their classes last year outperformed those in hybrid models and significantly outperformed those who were fully remote. “We haven’t seen this kind of academic achievement crisis in living memory,” Michael Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute told Politico.

But we also know that children aren’t just suffering academically. 

The unnerving rise of depression and anxiety in high school students should have been a key factor in our state’s and the nation’s Covid-recovery plans. The Times’ morning briefing on January 4 indicated that three major medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have declared “a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health”.

The joint declaration alarmingly notes that “across the country we have witnessed dramatic increases in Emergency Department visits for all mental health emergencies.” (emphasis added)

This should not be breaking news in January 2022. 

Teen mental health issues dominated the October and November CT Ed Watch headlines. A local story from Greenwich reports an “alarming rate” of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse from a post-pandemic study. At the national level, it was reported as early as September that 2021 graduates suffer significantly more stress than their predecessors. 

Other symptoms of the devastating reach of Covid-19 paranoia on developing children include a sharp increase in gun violence, a 51 percent rise in suicide attempts by adolescent girls, and an uptick in behavioral problems

While school and societal lockdowns was understandable in March 2020, we have had conclusive evidence for at least 18 months that severe cases of Covid are rare in children. Furthermore, expert voices have warned since last February that school closures may not in fact reduce the spread of Covid.

As David Leonhardt wrote for the Times in the Morning Briefing, “They have accepted more harm to children in exchange for less harm to adults, often without acknowledging the dilemma or assessing which decisions lead to less overall harm.”

While Leonhardt correctly diagnoses the issue in his analysis, he couldn’t really make any recommendations for how to change policy going forward so that America can start to heal the massive wounds in our children’s generation. 

Part of his problem is that the paper of record (and every other media outlet) failed to see that there was a crisis until now. 

As a result of the media’s complete and utter failure towards America’s children, we have school districts in Boston and Chicago where teachers (who are required to be fully vaccinated) continue to call in sick, effectively shutting down the schools. In Connecticut, some schools won’t open this week because of teacher shortages, a situation caused by the culture of heavy regulation that led to reactive and unscientific Covid-19 measures. 

We’ve sacrificed our children to keep ourselves safe and comfortable. 

Can the education system address this crisis in our children? Hopefully, the emerging media attention on children means that something will change. Emerging from the pandemic gives us the chance to rethink a system that has collapsed.  

Parents need to rise up, as they already have in so many districts around the country. Take advantage of January, which is National School Board Month, to contact your local school board and draw their attention to the research shared here. If the local schools cannot save your children, it may be time to leave.

It should never have come to this, but now is the time to put children first.

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