Functioning schools are the backbone of society. Especially for younger children and for lower socio-economic groups, schools are at the center of mental health care, nutrition, vaccination compliance, and even making sure that child abuse is being reported. The shuttering of schools across the country has a deep impact on the psyche of not just students, but also teachers and parents. Solo online learning has disrupted everyone’s lives.
Teachers across the country have resisted the call to return, afraid for their own health, concerned that proposed plans to ensure physical distancing, masking, COVID-19 screening, and rapid testing have not actually been instituted. Their concern is legitimate, if a plan to protect them is not in place. Several physicians have told me their teacher/patients are already asking for doctors notes in August.
In New York, the United Federation of Teachers Solidarity caucus has opposed Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to reopen New York City Schools two to three days a week and asked for the immediate resignation of School Chancellor Richard Carranza. This is wrong. New York City has few new cases and is trying very hard to put an effective plan in place.
Some schools say they will only fully reopen once a vaccine becomes available. But will this be the magic bullet that schools need? Or will fear of the virus be replaced by fear of a rapidly manufactured vaccine? We will certainly need a majority of people to take the vaccine to create enough “herd immunity” to satisfy the schools and protect society.
The mental health of our children is at stake, but we are not nearly as afraid of their damaged psyches as we should be.
Dr. Marc Siegel, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and a Fox News medical correspondent, is a clinical professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Health. Follow him on Twitter: @DrMarcSiegel