PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Health and education officials in Rhode Island took part in the first of a series of online events to address concerns about the reopening of schools in the fall.
Gov. Gina Raimondo and R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green hosted a Facebook Live forum Thursday afternoon to provide parents, students and teachers with information as they work toward a goal of having in-person classes resume on Aug. 31.
They were joined by Dr. Jim McDonald of the R.I. Department of Health and Dr. Elizabeth Lange, former president of the local chapter of the American Academy of Pediatricians, who both admitted that while there is no way to make in-person learning risk-free at this time, there are ways to minimize that risk.
“There is nothing that we can do to make the risk to go 100% away,” Lange said. “But with the right measures and with the right plans and with the right teamwork, we can mitigate the risks so that they are down to as minimal as possible.”
Lange said there are several ways that all Rhode Islanders can make returning to school as safe as possible, including wearing masks, social distancing, and practicing proper hygiene.
“As long as we keep the level of virus low in our state, we are setting our children and our schools back up to go back into an environment where we don’t have as much disease and illness as other states are experiencing,” Lange said.
McDonald said parents’ concerns about their children returning to school are valid, but there are many benefits to in-person learning that students would be missing out on by staying home.
“Home is great, but kids are used to routines and most kids are used to, in September, going to school,” McDonald explained, adding that school is much more than a “cognitive presence” for students.
He said school has a social component for all children where they can interact with other students and teachers while also learning more about themselves.
“There’s so much more that goes on in school and it’s a really important dynamic in a child’s life,” he continued.
The best thing parents can do right now, according to McDonald, is teach not only their children, but also their friends and colleagues how to keep themselves and others safe from the virus.
“Just because all of us knew smoking was bad for us, we all didn’t stop smoking,” McDonald added. “We all need a little help sometimes, so I am all about educating our friends and our neighbors so we can move in the right direction.”
Lange said she’s seen an increase in both depression and anxiety in pediatric patients because of the pandemic.
“Kids are worried and they’re sad,” she said. “They are missing their routine, they are worried about mommy and daddy being back at work, they are worried about the change in the household finances with the unemployment rate. They are picking up all the things that their parents are worried about, as well as their own social groups.”
McDonald said between March and June, the percentage of children brought to the emergency room with suicidal thoughts was double what it was during the same time period last year.
He said the best course of action is for parents to encourage their children to talk about their concerns.
“Fear is the path to the dark side,” McDonald said. “I don’t know anyone who gets better while being afraid. It’s better to talk to folks and understand what it is you’re worried about and talk it through.”