6/24/2020, 6:30 AM – This article is also excerpted from our local Nextdoor discussion on school reopening. The full Nextdoor discussion is accessible at https://nextdoor.com/news_feed/?post=151832244, but requires both a Nextdoor account to access and is also only geographically accessible from some, not all, neighborhoods in the SMUHSD.
Nextdoor’s discussions are free-form, comments are quickly lost in nested sub-threads, and include a lot of repetition of issues covered previously in the convoluted discussion thread. Consequently, I have been highlighting on this blog aspects of the conversation that strike me as being of particular importance.
The following comments were written by Joelle Kaufman and reproduced here with her permission. Some of my remarks during the conversation are also included below. There were a couple of other participants as well but, as the Board Meeting is coming up soon, and because I promised that Joelle’s remarks would go up this morning, I did not have time to seek out permission from the other participants. Technically, any post on Nextdoor is in a public forum and could be quoted elsewhere, but I prefer not to operate in that manner on this blog.
Joelle Kaufman introduced herself early in the conversation as follows: “I am a business person – and a parent of a BHS graduate, BHS Senior and an 8th grader who will attend BHS.” The “survey” which she mentions at the beginning below was conducted by SMUHSD to gauge parent and student sentiment about returning to school this Fall.
Joelle’s comment is followed by my reply, and then her response to my request for available data. As I received this late last night, I have not had time to review any of the citations that she quotes and leave the evaluation of these links to each reader.
Joelle Kaufman: Without a doubt, the survey was flawed and a less biased, transparent survey should be deployed to get broad parent, student and teacher input.
I think that your blogpost, David Kristofferson, may have missed what I think is the underlying problem with the call, from 75% or 2/3 of the teachers, for 100% distance learning. When we moved dramatically to distance, we know teachers really couldn’t prepare. Teachers begged, pleaded publicly for credit/no-credit to protect the most vulnerable students – and acknowledged that students who were striving (vulnerable or not) would be potentially demoralized and demotivated – but that it was better for everyone’s mental health and more equitable to go credit/no-credit.
Turns out – it was neither. The lack of structure and the lack of expectations disproportionately impacted more vulnerable students who may not have parents who can act as teacher’s aides or tutors (or hire them). The psychological damage of isolation, lack of structure and no purpose is now well documented for the dramatic increases in anxiety and depression. While there are other factors obviously contributing to those problems, the recommendation of the teachers removed key defenses against those mental health consequences. And I don’t think anyone thinks the District is not also culpable – but the recommendation came from teachers and it was not good for the kids. The pleading for 100% distance learning also came from the teachers at the last Board meeting – not from the Board, Administrators. Teachers, who are educators, are not psychologists (although they may feel like them sometimes!).
Psychologists I know were very alarmed by the credit/no-credit and are very alarmed by the 100% distance recommendation. For example – you have NO IDEA who is actually vulnerable – it’s not just socio-economic or IEP/504 or students struggling in school. The largest population of anxious and depressed students are high performing, relatively affluent teens. It’s very sad. The only way to know who is struggling is to SEE them and OBSERVE changes in demeanor and behavior to refer them to a counselor for help.
Now we have another recommendation from teachers – driven by fear for their own safety. And only one teacher in the district has training and experience in distance learning – so we have teachers recommending something that they did not do well in the spring, are not trained to do and have no experience in doing, because they are scared. And it is scary. And when you look at the rate of infection and of complex cases, the adjusted risk is very low (not zero) for people under 65. I’m happy to share with you a model of that risk so you can adjust the assumptions . I do not know how many teachers are over 50 or have a medical condition that significantly increases their risk (my model guessed 45% to be conservative). But all living is risk – driving to school, exposure to influenza, eating unhealthy (but tasty) food, having children on screens fo 3-6 hours per day. My model calculated 2 cases (not deaths – none of those) in the entire SMUHSD given the infection rate and mortality rate by age. Our county is declining in cases – in spite of more interaction – as people exercise personal responsibility.
School will be different as we mitigate risk – for the teachers. The teens are already interacting with each other, as they do and as they need. Let’s educate them as they need as well – in person, in community and teach personal responsibility for community.
David Kristofferson: Hi Joelle, your clear concern is the psychological impact on kids of distance learning, and I think this is what you are saying that I did not address on my blog about school reopening. Yes, that is correct and you make very good points above.
I have been writing for several years, though, about the negative impacts of the AP course load on kids and have noted the irony of the frequent mention of mental health resources by the school district, e.g., even to the point of declaring September to be Suicide Prevention Month a year or two back. See for example my articles “Critical Warnings re AP Classes” at https://eduissues.com/2016/10/20/critical-warnings-re-ap-classes/ and “Mutual Assured Destruction” at https://eduissues.com/2018/03/16/mutual-assured-destruction/.
In the limited time to try to make sense of all of the complicated, competing plans and interests, I unfortunately omitted this important issue, so I apologize.
In order to make a rational decision on the competing concerns of teachers versus students, we need data though.
In the case of mental health issues, privacy concerns may hinder data collection. When dealing with economically disadvantaged children a similar issue arises given the fears of undocumented immigrants.
When one sees pictures of corpses being loaded into refrigeration trucks in New York as a result of COVID-19 and holds this up against non-quantitative claims of increased anxiety and depression, it is hard not to be more moved by the former rather than the latter in the current crisis.
Call numbers to suicide prevention lines are a possible statistic, but can be due to many causes. One would expect the biggest problem right now might be due to adults who are out of work and unable to pay their bills or put food on the table and for people with serious illness and no health insurance.
Have you seen any *real data* pertaining to kids, either nationwide at the very least, or better yet for our decision purposes, in our area?
Without data, I think that most people will have no choice but to conclude that death is a more serious outcome than anxiety and depression. *** I am saying this not to minimize the students’ problems, but only to point out how hard it is to balance all of the competing concerns fairly. ***
Joelle Kaufman: Thank you – I’d love to be a guest blogger on your site – please feel free to repost my comment with the following added data. The studies on mental health impact are too early to be published – but I found a number of potential proxies to emphasize how serious mental health is for our students – and that our schools are their first line of detection.
https://www.crisistextline.org/mental-health/coronavirus-how-is-america-feeling-part-9-grief/ – you can read that Anxiety is 10 points higher since the start of the pandemic. People text CrisisTextLine – Text HOME to 741741 to text with a Crisis Counselor – when they need help.
Their top suggestions for students is to “stay on track” and “stay on a schedule” – both of which were totally undermined in the spring. I recognize that the intention is to do something different in the fall – but without a curriculum designed, by curriculum development professionals, for virtual learning. https://www.crisistextline.org/topics/get-help-coronavirus/#for-students-3
Psychologists and psychiatrists are writing about the amount of abuse (domestic and familial) that is occurring. https://www.statnews.com/2020/04/27/adolescents-young-adults-paying-high-price-covid-19-prevention/
And finally, California is 10th in the nation for CrisisTextLine activity. Suicidal ideation is down (thankfully as suicide is the leading killer of teens – and Covid-19 represents 0.1 of the suicide deaths). But anxiety, depression, eating disorders and abuse are way up. https://www.crisistextline.org/mental-health/coronavirus-how-is-america-feeling-self-care-part-10/.
The mental health issues can be damaging lifelong and impact a much higher percentage of students than Covid-19. We have to balance the risk – the students need school to learn and for their safety.
Thank you again for the continued civil and informed dialogue and for sharing my thoughts with your audience. Respect.
Please post your comments following this article below. You must scroll all the way down to the “Leave a Reply” box to reply to the article directly or click the “Reply” link following a particular comment to respond to that comment. This forum is moderated, so comments will not appear until approved.
The WordPress software that runs this site requires that you enter an email address in order to comment, but your address is not checked for validity nor displayed, and I do not collect or use this information. Also, you will not receive emailed comments on the article from other people unless you check a box in the form to request this.
Thanks as always for your participation!