A City, If You Can Keep It: The kids aren’t alright

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We are nearly a month into “Red” and our students are still distance learning. On balance, distance learning represents a far greater risk to student wellbeing than COVID. At the Oct. 15 school board meeting, the results of a high school distance learning climate survey were reported out. The survey was entirely student driven from conception to execution. They came up with the idea, wrote the questions, and set up the survey.

I reached out to a few School Board Trustees to see where I could review the video of the meeting since I didn’t have my notebook handy when the numbers were reported. Instead, Trustee Warren sent me a copy of the survey summary. The results should have most every parent in the district demanding a return to in-person instruction.

The entire survey consisted of two fill-in questions and the six questions listed below with the list of possible responses ranging from always to never. The percentages next to each question below are the rate that the student response was “Never to Less Than Half the Time”:
• I have felt cheerful and in good spirits: 66.2 percent
• I have felt active and energetic: 68.3 percent
• I wake up feeling awake and well-rested: 75.4 percent
• I have felt calm and relaxed: 66.2 percent
• My stress has been manageable: 64.1 percent
• I am engaged and interested in school: 62 percent
Those numbers are a recipe for teen suicide. Ten years as an Army Officer had me sitting through more hours of resilience training than I can count. Feeling simultaneously cheerless, lethargic, fatigued, anxious, disengaged, stressed, and being unable to manage all of those things are contributing risk factors for suicide.

The military has 22 members per day killing themselves with a support structure of people around them fully aware of the risks and signs. That structure needs improvement but is more than students have. Parents may not be on the lookout for this.

While school sites are certainly taking steps to improve student mental health, the military has made this a priority with experts consulting, Congressional emphasis, and hours of in-person training and still lose 22 service members per day. No matter the good intentions and effort put in, student mental health cannot be managed online.

I would imagine grades are suffering for all but the top students. I am not a psychologist but if my daughter was school age, I would be on the lookout for slipping grades as an indicator of this issue.

COVID related deaths of people aged 0-24 are 1.40 percent of all U.S. COVID deaths (2,500 nationally according to the latest CDC data). There are 73,800,000 kids under 18 in the country. California has had two COVID deaths under the age of 18.

There is a crowdsourced online dashboard of 1,300 schools representing 688,000 students across the U.S. that reports case rates of students and staff as well as various location demographics and risk mitigation techniques being used. Filtering that dashboard for rural schools taking the same measures proposed in the Winters JUSD re-opening plan, we can get a glimpse of the risk in-person instruction may pose. Those filters represent a sample size of 79 schools and 29,000 students with a daily case rate of 14 students per 100,000 and 39 staff per 100,000.

For Winters that equals one student case per week and one teacher case every 6.5 weeks in the entire district. The available data is unambiguous that in-person instruction following the proposed district plan is safe for students and teachers.

Woodland Christian High School has already had one student suicide. Given the data and statistically nonexistent COVID risk to children under 18, why are our students not already in the classroom? The District has a plan and Yolo County is in a tier that permits it, so what or who is the hold-up? Has the plan prep not been completed? Does the Superintendent lack the moxie to make it happen? Or are teachers and administrators simply unaware that keeping students out of the classroom poses a greater risk to most of them than bringing them back?

Full disclosure: My wife is the high school Activities Director, who compiled the results from the survey. After the school board meeting, I asked her about the survey but she would not provide any additional data that had not been reported out, knowing I may write this column. So, I had to seek the information out the same way any member of the community would, by emailing the school board.

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