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One year later: Remote learning & mental damage

“Kids are really struggling"
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Posted at 6:07 PM, Mar 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-09 18:27:00-05

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Public school students are marking a year of schools being shut-down for in-person learning.

While many districts have reopened buildings using a hybrid model, with students in class two days a week, there are still many students who have not not stepped inside a classroom in more than a year.

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Dr. Amanda Werthman-Ehrenreich, emergency room physician.

“But we've had a year of data and it's now safe,” explained Dr. Amanda Werthman-Ehrenreich, emergency room physician.

A group of women physicians now the latest to come forward calling for a full return of five day a week, in-person learning at schools.

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Dr. Amanda Werthman-Ehrenreich & Rebecca Schaffer.

Dr. Werthman-Ehrenreich is also mother of three children in the Hamburg Central School District.

She wrote a letter and petition posted on Moveon.org calling on state lawmakers to change guidelines issued back in July, and fully reopen schools.

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Many schools continue to keep students six feet apart in classroom, limiting number of students.

“I felt my position as a doctor to share my opinion based on science — not politics — not based on any other agenda other than what's right for our kids,” remarked Werthman-Ehrenreich.

Child psychiatrist Rebecca Schaffer, who has a son in the Amherst Central School District, says the increase of serious mental health troubles tied to too much remote learning is very real.

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Child psychiatrist Rebecca Schaffer.

"Kids are really struggling and mental health counselors and therapists are overwhelmed,” Schaffer stated.

Data from Mental Health America, from January to September of 2020, there was a 93-percent jump in anxiety screenings, and a 62-percent jump in depression screenings.

A vast majority of teenagers who were screened showed some signs of anxiety and depression.

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Graphic on mental health screenings for teens.

“Increased levels of distress — increased anxiety — increased depression — increase in self-harm and suicidal thoughts,” Schaffer replied.

But school superintendents say they are still waiting for the state health department to issue a decision on the social distancing rules for classrooms that was supposed to happen last week and they never heard a word.

“That's the single biggest driver in slowing down the return four or five days a week,” responded Mark Laurrie, superintendent, Niagara Falls City Schools.

Superintendent Laurrie says it's time for one, effective guideline statewide.

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Mark Laurrie, superintendent, Niagara Falls City Schools, in Zoom interview.

“Let's use one, common sense, scientific data so that we are all on equal footing,” Laurrie declared. “We are getting close to pushing the limit in Niagara Falls of how many students we can bring back.”

New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) president Andy Pallotta says the union has been speaking with the governor's office on this issue for some time.

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New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) president Andy Pallotta in Zoom interview.

“We have been speaking with the governor’s office constantly through out the crisis and also on this issue of social distancing,” Pallotta replied.

“The superintendents feel very frustrated,” Buckley asked Pallotta.

“Well, they shouldn't be frustrated because the guidelines were set in late august by the re imagine task force which said six feet or barriers — so they could of had barriers a long time ago,” Pallotta responded.

The union leader say some districts have returned to five days a week but could not provide numbers.

The Onondaga Central Schools near Syracuse is returning full-time.

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School door with precautions.

Here in Western New York some, private schools returned fully because of smaller populations, and some public schools, but not districts have returned to five days, such as elementary students in Newfane and Niagara Wheafield.

“The superintendents and the schools hands have been tied by this rule of six feet — which is no longer necessary —the data shows it is safe,” responded Dr. Werthman-Ehrenreich.