As summer ends, many people are going back to school in person for the first time in nearly two years. This is despite the impacts of the delta variant of COVID-19; there are more than twice as many cases reported now than last year, but states have been reluctant to completely shut down again. Although vaccines are now being offered to kids as young as 12, which could potentially allow for schools to open up more for certain age groups, it is looking more likely that more schools will have to be online or have virtual/online classes offered– forms that are less than ideal for the students attending them.
Given that there has been more than a year of online schooling, parents and kids are starting to recognize and understand the effect of virtual schooling, and academic researchers are beginning to examine that effect. School is an important part of a child’s development both academically and social. In addition to the importance of connection with other students of their own age, in person school fosters a sense of motivation in many kids and also can offer them access to mental health resources that they may not have access to in any other situation. A study published in the Journal of School Health showed that 35% of teenagers who used mental health services between 2012 and 2015 received that care solely from resources offered in schools.
As of August 2021, many schools are planning to implement some form of in person school which would allow students to attend some classes in person and some online—with a hope for a gradual return to normalcy. Although at the beginning of the summer there seemed to be a chance that many schools could have their fall semester classes in person (and maybe even without masks), that hope seems to have disappeared. However, in some states and some schools that do not have to implement a mask policy are not having online classes and are implementing masks in those in-person classes.
In New York City, the Department of Education (DOE) distributed a handbook with safety guidelines for in-person school. The full handbook is linked here. As of August 2021, key requirements include:
- All DOE employees, including school-based staff, will be required to be vaccinated.
- Vaccination for all students 12 and over is strongly encouraged.
- Every student and staff member must complete the Health Screening Form prior to entering the school building each day. Anyone entering the building must confirm that they are not experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, have not recently tested positive, and are not currently required to quarantine based on close contact with an infected person.
- All students and staff must wear a face covering when riding on school buses and anywhere on school property, indoors and outdoors, regardless of vaccination status, unless they have a medical exemption.
- Every DOE room in use by students and staff for extended periods of time will have fully operational ventilation through either natural, mechanical, or a combination of means. As an added precaution, every classroom across New York City has been provided with two HEPA purifiers.
- All classrooms and common areas, such as auditoriums and gyms will have hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes available. High-touch areas such as doorknobs and water fountains will be cleaned multiple times throughout the day, and each classroom will be deep cleaned and disinfected daily using electrostatic technology.
- Every school will have ten percent of unvaccinated individuals who have submitted consent for testing in their school population tested biweekly.
In a time of so much uncertainty, many people are experiencing higher levels of stress, especially those who are still developmentally maturing. When anyone experiences high levels of stress this can put a strain on their relationships including dating, friendships, and other types of relationships. High levels of stress and anxiety can also lead to or exacerbate abusive behavior. Thus, in situations like the pandemic when people are experiencing higher levels of stress and families are spending much more time together, it is important to understand the warning signs for abusive behavior.
It is also important to find spaces or activities that can take away some of that stress, even if only for a short period of time. Here are some resources that could help alleviate some of the stress coming from the present uncertainty in many people’s lives.
- Day One’s Luvving zine displays a positive and safe space where folks can get creative around the topic of love in all of its forms.
- Free 60 Digital Resources for Mental Health connects people to diagnostic tools, research portals, government organizations, nonprofits, blogs, and phone hotlines to address a wide range of needs
- Linked here are free digital mental health resources that act as a response to the mental health needs and issues that have arisen from Covid.
- With the inevitability of online classes in some schools, here is a resource which demonstrates how professors and school staff can create and maintain a positive online community. This could be useful for students as well who want to learn how their teachers and/or administrators can improve the virtual classroom environment.
- Here is a list of websites and their reviews that create online communities for students (and sometimes teachers as well) through online activities.