Citing alarming trends in mental and physical health among Maryland students, more than 500 medical professionals, health care workers, scientists and public health experts today urged Governor Larry Hogan and the Maryland Department of Health to take swift steps to immediately reopen Maryland schools five days a week.
Many of these professionals are members of the Coalition of Maryland Parents and Students (COMPS), which represents 20 counties, 22,000 families and 800,000 students. Maryland has ranked in the bottom of in-person instruction for the entire duration of the pandemic.
“For months, we have witnessed the stress and isolation that children have been exposed to during the school closures, which has greatly contributed to a national mental health crisis in youth. Mortality data have shown the rates of suicide among school age children are 10 times greater than the rates of death from COVID-19. Additionally, depression, anxiety, substance use, and eating disorders are on the rise. The tradeoffs of schools’ closures have been ignored. These tradeoffs could have long term consequences considering the effects of the loss of months of education many children have experienced, especially those in low-income households and with special education needs, many of whom have completely disengaged from their schools for months. A recent CDC study showed that those children receiving virtual or combined instruction (and their parents) presented significant worsening of their physical, mental, and emotional health during the pandemic when compared to those who received in person instruction. This research confirms what we have seen for many months: virtual and hybrid instruction are contributing to a health crisis in children,” wrote the medical professionals in their letter to Governor Hogan and Maryland Acting Deputy Secretary of Health Dr. Jinlene Chan.
The professionals noted that with vaccines available to all teachers and school staff, numerous studies demonstrating the effectiveness of simple mitigation in preventing school transmission, and the CDC’s new three-foot-distancing-guidance, the hybrid model is both unnecessary and “disruptive.”
“We need all local Maryland departments of health to give clear guidance to our school districts and communicate that the threat to the health of children in Maryland due to continued virtual and hybrid learning is too important to be ignored. This is a health and social emergency and as such, we cannot afford any more delays,” concluded the medical professionals.
Eighty four percent of U.S. public schools are open, most of which are 5 days a week. Governors and state leaders in Illinois, New Mexico, and California have recently updated distancing guidance to enable the full return of students to classrooms this spring. Leaders in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Florida, Iowa, Texas, and West Virginia have gone even further, requiring their school to offer full time live instruction.