February 8, 2021
Over the last year, we have faced several crises due to COVID-19, and the ongoing and systemic acts of police brutality on Black and Brown residents in our community. The current reality for families in our community has changed dramatically from loss of jobs and homes, to losing any semblance of predictability and stability.
As we continue to all navigate the ever-changing dynamics of the pandemic, the Healthi Kids coalition supports the Rochester City School District’s plans to reopen. We do so for several key reasons:
1. Reopening Provides Families and Students with a Choice
In a recent survey we conducted of primary caregivers’ childcare needs in Monroe and Wayne County, we discovered that over 38 percent of caregivers who responded from the Rochester City School want children to go back to in-person learning.[i] This was listed as one of the top three solutions by families to support their childcare needs during the pandemic. These results, echo the results of the district survey.
Over the last ten months, our coalition members and staff have heard mixed stories from families about in-person vs. remote learning. While families may have mixed reactions coming back to school in person, we do believe in a family’s right to choose the opportunity they feel is best for their child. Families are struggling, and while in-person learning may not be the choice for everyone, it is the choice of some to have their kids back in the classroom. We support every family and student’s right to choose their education experience; and to be provided with the same opportunities as their suburban counterparts.
2. COVID-19 Rates in Schools Remain Low and Can Remain that Way When Following Proper Health and Safety Standards
A recent study by the CDC shares there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission in the United States and abroad.[ii] Data compiled by the Monroe County Department of Health and analyzed by ROC the Future demonstrates that the COVID positivity rate for all ages in Monroe County from January 6-20 was 7.3 percent. However, data from school districts where they are teaching in-person show a positive test rate of only 0.72 percent among students during that same period.[iii]
This evidence demonstrates that current health and safety standards by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, New York State Department of Health and the Monroe County Health Department are working. COVID rates can and will continue to remain low so long as school districts continue to follow proper health and safety standards including: social distancing, masking and regular handwashing.
3. Reopening Advances Equitable Learning Opportunities for our Children
We all have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but none as much as Black and Brown Communities across the country. Across the region, 68 percent of Black adults; and 53 percent of Latinos live in poverty compared to only 12 percent of white adults.[iv] Families that were already struggling and living in poverty and struggling to make ends meet were given another blow with additional loss of income, stability, and much needed support. On top of that stress, we also have come to learn that if you are Black or Brown in Monroe County your chance of dying from COVID-19 is three times higher than it is for whites; and that our Latinx and Black residents are also three and five times more likely to be hospitalized because of the illness.[v]
These exacerbated crises caused by racism continue to damage the health of our Black and Brown communities and are impacting our children every day. This remains true as well for our educational outcomes and opportunities available to our students. While our students have been in remote learning modes since March of 2020, other suburban, highly resourced, and predominantly white districts have found ways to move forward in hybrid models of learning. As families continue to deal with these compounded crises and traumas, we support the Rochester City School District’s reopening plan to stop perpetuating structural inequities for our children. We must stop putting politics in front of what is best for our children and families. Reopening our schools to hybrid and in-person learning models will provide equitable learning opportunities for our children and ensure that they are receiving the adequate in-person supports they need to mitigate the trauma of the pandemic. Our families deserve the same choices their suburban counterparts have when it comes to their children’s education.
4. Reopening Fosters Healthy Relationships and Whole Child Health
At the end of the day, these crises have compounded toxic stress for children in the Rochester City School District. As you well know, consistent toxic stress in childhood caused by poverty[vi], adverse childhood experiences (ACES)[vii], and racism[viii] significantly alters overall brain structure and function in children and negatively impacts their overall health and wellbeing in the future. Our coalition members and family advocates have expressed their concerns to staff over the last several months about the impact COVID-19 will have on their children’s mental health and wellbeing, and their overall ability to rebound from yet another trauma without adequate support.
The current pandemic is compounding existing trauma in our children and impacting their overall brain development. We can support healing of these neuropathways, continue to build resiliency of our children by providing the necessary supports to their family and by fostering healthy relationships between kids, their peers and staff. Re-opening schools supports healing. Schools provide a space for students and families to receive needed supports including: school based mental health supports; special education; intervention services; health care access; emergency needs; crisis intervention; healthy food access; and child care. It provides a space for children to play with their peers, interact with teachers and staff, have a healthy meal, and be supported in a safe environment.
Schools also provide a necessary space for children to play and build important social emotional skills. Research from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child shares the best way adults can mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19 on children, is by building healthy relationships between their peers, and adults in their life.[ix] When we prioritize building healthy relationships through play, play based learning, recess, and social emotional learning, we are mitigating the trauma and impact the last year has had on our children. Our children all deserve that opportunity.
As a coalition, we recognize the concerns of teachers and staff. As the district reopens, we support efforts provided by Central Office to support teacher and staff well-being. Experience with disasters such as Hurricane Sandy showed that young children can experience long-term mental health effects if their trusted adults, including teachers and school staff, are not able to support and nurture them. The crucial adult capacity to provide nurturing care may be impacted by the adult’s own illness, stress, fear, and mental health conditions that may have intensified and gone untreated during this time. To continue to meet the needs of students, we must look after teachers and staff.
What we are encouraging, is that while staff health, safety and well-being continue to be addressed in the plan we must also weigh those concerns alongside the many benefits keeping our schools open has to children and families. Our conversation and decisions should and must be centered on “what is best for children and families in the Rochester City School District”. Our families deserve and should continue to have the choice for their child’s education. Our children deserve access to all of the supports, relationships, and tools they receive when schools are open. We must as a community, come together to provide the village our kids and families need to be healthy and supported.
[i] Healthi Kids Coalition (2021). Fall 2020 Family Voice Pulse Survey: Monroe and Wayne County Caregiver Perceptions in Child Care During COVID-19. Published online January, 2021. https://media.cmsmax.com/9p433trpk8pdaaywwkfzb/final-caregiver-perception-pulse-survey-child-care-needs-during-covid-19-fall-2020.pdf
[ii] Honein, M. Barrios, L. Brooks. J. (2021, January 26). Data and policy to guide opening schools safetly to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2 Infection. JAMA. Published online January 26, 2021. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2775875
[iii] Roc the Future (2021). RTF Data
[iv] Common Ground Health (2020). Source: American Community Health Survey. Common Ground Health analysis.
[v] Common Ground Health (2020). Covid-19 age adjusted death rate by race/ethnicity (Monroe County reported 6/1/2020) and Covid-19 age adjusted hospitalization rate by race/ethnicity (Monroe County reported on 6/1/2020).
[vi] Blair C, Raver CC. Poverty, stress, and brain development: New directions for prevention and intervention. Acad Pediatr. 2016;16(3):S30-S36.
[vii] Oh, D et al (2018). Systematic review of pediatric health outcomes associated with adverse childhood experiences. Pediatrics, January 2018 Vol 141, Issue 1.
[viii] Priest N, Paradies Y, Trenerry B, Truong M, Karlsen S, Kelly Y. A systematic review of studies examining the relationship between reported racism and health and wellbeing for children and young people. Social Science & Medicine. 2013;95:115-127.
[ix] Harvard Center on the Develping Child (2020). Stress, resilience, and the role of science: Responding to the coronavirus pandemic. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/stress-resilience-and-the-role-of-science-responding-to-the-coronavirus-pandemic/