Educators and parents were counting on this pandemic school year being safer with vaccinations, but the highly infectious delta variant has created circumstances similar to last year. As schools open back up for in-person learning, with even higher chances for unvaccinated students to contract COVID-19, how can we protect the mental and physical health of those in schools?
“If people are really serious about getting back to in person, then we should all do our part and that includes masking on top of vaccinations.” –Dr. Elizabeth Moje, University of Michigan School of Education
Listen: Protecting students’ mental and physical health this school year.
Dr. Elizabeth Moje is dean of the University of Michigan School of Education. She says Michigan school districts are planning to follow similar public health guidelines as last year to keep students and faculty safe. “There are many protocols in place … but it depends on the district, some are mandating masks … some are mandating vaccinations and I know [Detroit Public Schools will] be adding weekly testing for everyone as well.”
Moje says the levels of COVID-19 precautions in school buildings vary around the state, but many districts are still requiring masking. “If we do what we know is best from public health guidelines we will maintain some stability … but we should expect other variants. I’m not a public health expert, but I’ve been reading and as long as people remain unvaccinated we will have new variants.” She says students always learn best in person, which is why everyone needs to work within public health guidelines. “If people are really serious about getting back to in person, then we should all do our part and that includes masking on top of vaccinations.”
Tim Michling is a research associate specializing in health policy with the Citizens Research Council of Michigan. He says instances of youth mental health issues steadily increase every year, while mental health support in schools remains chronically underfunded. “One in five youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder… unfortunately 50% of youth with mental, social and behavioral health issues aren’t getting the support they need.” Michling says schools need the resources to screen students for mental health issues, and then provide targeted support afterward. “It’s not just about the treatment, it’s also about the prevention … Schools have to make student health and wellness and mental health a priority.”
Eric Lupher is president of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan. He says young people are dealing with mental health issues similar to those of adults, without the same capacity to understand what’s happening. “Life is getting busier for all of us and this is affecting our children. There’s a lot of stress in the world.” Lupher says schools need more funding for counselors and nurses to protect both the academics and the mental health of students. “You can just think about what adults are going through, who have learned coping mechanisms … if we aren’t providing those tools to our young people, they internalize it.”