News & Politics

Tragic First-Person Accounts of the Effects of COVID-19 School Closures on Children

Image credit Anemone123 from Pixabay

For reasons unknown, there are still raging debates over whether or not to reopen schools. Simultaneously, schools in states like Georgia and Florida have been open since the fall and managed to keep the children whose parents want them to attend school in person open most of the time. Where they have not been prohibited, private schools opened nationwide. Multiple studies in the U.S. have shown that transmission of COVID-19 is minimal in the school setting, supported by data across the globe.

Even the CDC has recognized this data, citing “scant” transmission in the classroom. Yet nationwide, children are still learning remotely. Most often, continued closures involve irrational demands from teachers’ unions and teachers’ associations. This debate is raging in several counties in Virginia, where it is up to the individual school districts to decide how to provide instruction. One mother, Yael Levin-Sheldon, has had enough.

She has been coordinating a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to collect data on the negative impact these closures have had on children. Today, she released the data summary for emergency room visits for self-harm and suicide for children between 10 and 19 in her Central Virginia health region. The incidence of emergency room visits in this age group per 100,000 has gone up year-over-year in every single one of the seven counties. Some of the increases are startling.

In Henrico County, Levin-Sheldon’s home county, the rate went from 34.6 per 100,000 in 2019 to 180.8 per 100,000 in 2020. She was motivated to begin collecting data after advocating for schools in her district in June. In the process of her advocacy, she has been called a teacher-killer and a racist in public meetings and online forums. Levin-Sheldon said she is frustrated because all of the private schools in her area are open. Watching her own children’s behavior changes has been devastating.

Her two children were thriving students who loved school and received good grades. Now, she re-teaches them each evening after their remote learning classes to help them to maintain their grades. However, she has needed to seek professional help for both children. Her older child is exhibiting symptoms of OCD and has developed several compulsive habits, including obsessive handwashing. Her younger child has become emotionally labile, showing a wide range of behavior in short periods, from severe anger outbursts to inconsolable tears in minutes.

Levin-Sheldon says there is a school board meeting on Thursday, but the public is not allowed to attend. She expects no progress as the last teachers’ association demand was to fully vaccinate the teachers a month apart and wait the two weeks for effectiveness. The CDC director said today that that was not required. At any rate, it will not happen in Henrico County until the end of March in the best-case scenario. That is right before spring break, and at best, children may get a few weeks of in-person classes before school is out. Levin-Sheldon said:

I know a number of teachers and don’t blame them. Several are ready to return to school and are afraid to speak up. They are being bullied by the Henricho Education Association. I blame a lack of leadership from the school board and by Superintendent Dr. Amy Cashwell.

In Chesterfield County, Kristin Gladstone has similar frustrations. She has a special-needs high school student who is back to school in-person, only because of the small class size. These students are alone in the building, and the student is missing his regular classroom experience outside of the special education program.

Her freshman has attended school for precisely four days since the original shutdown. When they immediately went back to distance learning, her child looked at her and said, “Mom, I’m just losing hope.” This honors student struggled to get average grades last semester and ended up with two Ds. Now, the child is talking about dropping out of school and suffering from decreased appetite, insomnia, and wild mood swings.

Gladstone is functioning as a mother, teacher, and caregiver, taking care of her terminally-ill mother. It is a daily battle to get her freshman to log into remote class and attempt to complete his work — and hers. She is seeking therapy for her child but firmly believes a return to school would have prevented all of this. Just attending for four days in November started to improve her child’s appetite.

School closures have had devastating impacts outside Virginia, as well. On Tucker Carlson Tonight, attorney Laura Grochocki appeared to share the stories she has collected from clients and her community. She represents Lisa Moore, whose son Travis Till committed suicide during the school closure orders from Illinois Governor  J.B. Pritzker. Grochocki is receiving death threats for taking on this case through her small not-for-profit Remember America Action organization. In the interview, she says Moore’s story is just one of the many she has heard, and the foundation cannot take all of the cases her team would like to:

[There is an] outpouring of people calling us and begging us for help. And parents calling us and asking for someone to help them. And the stories of these parents and their kids. Some kids, not just Trevor Till, but at least ten other cases in Illinois that I am aware of , of kids committing suicide. And eating disorders and hospitalizations over depression. And thousands and thousands of kids from low-income, diverse and rural communities not able to go to college because they are not going to be eligible for scholarships because they didn’t get scouted their junior year…….The crisis is out of control and no one wants to talk about it.

Grochocki said Remember America Action would have filed hundreds of lawsuits across the county if her team had the resources to do it. She said this case was a simple Equal Protection case because Governor Pritzker allowed professional and college teams to play but teen athletes have been crushed by the restrictions.

It is long past time for our national and local leaders to end this madness. Not all private schools have invested millions in new ventilation systems and plexiglass. Most of the studies have used commonsense hygiene measures and cloth masks with additional cleaning requirements. The need for more federal spending is a ridiculous excuse at this point.

The disadvantages that children, even in good schools and without learning disabilities, will have compared to their peers in places where schools are open is unconscionable at this point. There is no way to know how long the gap will exist or the long-term effects of the mental health crisis. It is high time someone pulls a Ronald Reagan with the air-traffic controllers and tells these teachers’ unions and associations their members can be replaced in short order or they will start docking their pay. The future of too many children depends on it.

WATCH the full segment on Tucker Carlson Tonight. A call is played during the segment where obvious profanity is beeped out.