During Monday night’s meeting, the school committee voted to start hybrid learning on January 4, 2021, following the recommendation of School Superintendent, Lisa Howard. The majority voted in favor of the new start date, delayed from December 7th, based on guidance that the Board of Health (BoH) shared in last week’s joint meeting. The official stance of the BoH is to use the additional three weeks to watch trends and increase mitigation on a community level, taking data into consideration.
The vote didn’t come easy and was preceded by a lengthy round of public comments, backing both sides of the argument. Several parents, teachers and students, came forward, urging the committee to keep the December 7th start date, many stating that the mental health of students was at risk.
Senior, Jenna Dorr presented a mental health survey that she created for her fellow students, sharing that suicide is the second cause of leading death amongst teens. The survey results are as follows: 49.2% of students from WHS are experiencing znxiety daily, and 16.9% of students have experienced anxiety, 34.6% of students have feelings of depression daily and 22.3% of students have had feelings of depression, 43.1% of students are experiencing loneliness daily and 20% of students have experienced loneliness, 43.8% of students have experienced sadness daily and 19.2% of students have experienced sadness at times, 61.5% of students are not motivated to learn daily and 13.8% of students have had feelings of being not motivated to learn at times.
Parent and community nurse practitioner, Jeanne Holgersen, backed Dorr’s statement, sharing that she has witnessed firsthand an uptick of seniors claiming they are depressed.
“As a nurse practitioner in the community, I am dealing with seniors on a daily basis who are depressed and filled with anxiety, students who are being prescribed Zoloft. Kids in our community are suffering and this is a cry for help, I hope everyone is listening. It’s time we consider both Covid and mental health concerns. Give us hope, keep the date.”
On the other side of the argument, many voiced their concerns over the anxiety that will be attributed to a shifted learning environment.
“When children return to hybrid mode, you have to understand that it won’t be the same,” said Anita Preble, Adjustment Counselor at the ATC School. “They won’t be able to socialize and one of the main sources of anxiety in children is transitioning. If we move into hybrid and there is an outbreak, that will entail multiple transitions, which will be challenging for children and in turn their anxiety levels will increase.”
Rosemary McCarthy, STEM Director at the Middle School, recognized a coalition forming and splitting the town in half, those who are for schools reopening immediately and those who are erring on the side of caution, opting for a delayed start for in-person learning.
“You can’t rely on an amateur survey given by and taken by the same people who want to go back to school,” McCarthy said. “It’s also important to keep in mind that going back to school is going to be very different than it was pre-Covid. Students will have to maintain a six foot distance at all times, they’ll have to face forward at all times so that when you speak you won’t spew virus-laden air on others. You won’t even be able to get up and sharpen your pencil and only one person will be allowed in the bathroom at a time.”