HILLIARD, Ohio – The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and was posted on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
84 Hilliard City Schools students were hospitalized with mental health problems during the pandemic. According to official figures, this number has increased fourfold on average.
In the district, home to about 16,000 college students, 660 students have contracted COVID-19, seven of whom were hospitalized with the new disease, according to state and local records.
The rise in mental emergencies underscores the problem of a difficult consideration for school administrators and parents: how to weigh the known and unknown features of a deadly pandemic that spreads primarily through personal contact against the collateral damage caused by keeping children away from school ? and isolated.
“It’s a good balance,” said Mike Abraham, director of student welfare for the district.
“Right now it’s just so one-sided with the number of kids struggling with mental health and the number of kids hospitalized for Covid. It just makes sense to get some of them back to school to allay some of these fears. “
To expedite the return of students to class, Governor Mike DeWine decided to give priority to teachers in the COVID-19 vaccination queue. In four weeks, 200,000 Ohio teachers were vaccinated, he said at a news conference on Monday.
In January, about 50% of public school students were not offered face-to-face learning. Today it is less than 10%. Eight school districts don’t yet offer face-to-face learning, though DeWine said all but one will be returning in the next few weeks.
In Hilliard, however, the district saw an increase in demand for mental health care, despite the fact that a hybrid learning model had been on offer since September.
On March 15th, the Hilliard Schools will switch to an “all-in learning mode”. This includes full-time face-to-face study with masks, 6-inch social distancing “if possible,” two students per bus seat, and a laundry list of similar crafts.
The district relocation will follow the instructions from the CDC released last week. State schools can safely reopen without vaccinated teachers as long as they follow infection control guidelines.
Baker said school children are more fearful of the pandemic than most today. Factor of social isolation; the loss of rites of passage such as overcrowded soccer fields or prom; the unsettling psychological effects of being surrounded by people in masks; and more, and lots for kids to navigate.
It’s a lot for adults, including yourself, Baker said.
“This is a very, very social generation,” he said. “If you tell them you can’t get out with your friends, that’s pretty important to these kids.”
Baker said he would assume this problem isn’t unique to Hilliard.
However, according to a spokeswoman, the Ohio Department of Education has not collected data on the increase in mental health visits from Ohio students.
The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services also does not collect data on student mental health, according to department spokesman Eric Wandersleben.
However, anecdotally, he said that county mental health authorities have seen an increase in demand for mental health and addiction support in the general population, but final data is not available.
Though not age-specific, the department launched a phone line to help Ohioans deal with loneliness, fear, anxiety, substance abuse, and other pandemic-related issues. Consultants have made more than 5,000 calls, he said.
Research by the CDC in November found that the rate of mental health visits to the emergency room for children ages 5-11 and 12-17 increased by approximately 24% and 31%, respectively, compared to 2019 data.
News of Hilliard’s surge in mental health needs reached the statehouse when Rep. Shane Wilikin, R-Hillsboro, asked a state health officer if he knew the findings.
Wilikin, who like many Republican lawmakers refuses to wear a mask, asked when he was reviewing House Bill 90 that Hilliard would automatically remove all public health ordinances or public health emergencies after 30 days unless lawmakers did the extension allows.
In his interview, Baker made it clear that he was not advocating ending any mitigation efforts, including mask mandates, social distancing, etc.
He stressed that no protocol will or should change. But case numbers are falling, vaccinations (for adults) are coming and now is the time to mitigate some of the non-coronavirus damage caused by the pandemic.
“I don’t think we need to lift all covid restrictions,” he said. “I think we have to follow science. It’s not just kids, there are adults, and we need to keep everyone safe. And what can we do while ensuring the children’s safety? “