Blog Post

The Pandemic and Children's Mental Health

On the news again are the arguments for reopening schools. I heard some of the arguments from pediatricians regarding mental health and the need for students to be in school. I am not sure if many pediatricians realize that special education teachers set up mental health services for our students.

For example, at the beginning of the school shutdowns I had several IEPs via Zoom to make sure that virtual services were in place for our students with special needs. There were 2 students who were pending mental health services before the school shut downs. The time pending is from the time of assessment to the next IEP to set up services with the county mental health services. We had the meetings via Zoom. The two students were expedited mental health services and counseling services were offered online once a week for each of the two students. 

Thankfully, the two students were not K-2 students because our school did not provide computers for our K-2 students. This is a point that all students need access to services and teachers need to be able to check in with their kids virtually. 

Additionally, during the pandemic what some of my fellow special education teachers and I noticed is that many of our general education colleague just wanted to divide the classes up where the sped teachers would teach the students with disabilities online and that the gen ed teachers didn't have to teach our students. My resource sped teacher colleagues and I again had to advocate for our students to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LEA) and that includes digitally. In short, students with special needs to to be in an inclusive virtual environment as well. 

Digital co-teaching is a way to encourage and facilitate inclusion. It is also a way for sped teachers to keep in contact with the general education students who may need to be evaluated for services such as mental health services at this time.

With that, some questions I have been thinking about with this pandemic are,as follows:

  • How are the roles of special education teachers changing during this time?
  • How can special education teachers help during this time to crisis to use it as a time for an opportunity of advocacy and change in the way we educate our children with special needs?

Furthermore, I used to teach students who were hospital/homebound students as a part of my caseload. For example, one of my students was not able to come to school for medical reasons. I went to his house and taught him. I am also trained in art therapy and am certified in art education. I incorporated a lot of the arts throughout our lessons. Then when he was starting to feel better we set up a plan where he would come to school for half days until he could come to school for full days. We eased into the transition back to school so that it would be less stressful for him.

Also, I wonder if some of our general education students acquire Covid-19 related Mulitsystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C) and need to stay home or are hospitalized if there is a contingency plan for that? The child would technically have special needs and would need the support of the special education teacher and team.  

This is a time when pediatricians and special education teachers would benefit from collaborating together to design a plan to help our students who may be exposed. Conversely, many pediatricians saying that our students mental health is at risk if our kids are not in school. I am not even sure if they understand all the roles that many special education teachers do in their community to help our kiddos with special needs.

Many schools do not even have nurses. Some only have a nurse come in once a week. Most of the time the front office secretaries take care of medical needs. If it is a student with special needs, then special education teachers usually take care of the medical needs. At one school I worked at, the district nurse had many schools on her caseload. Therefore, she trained us on how to insert catheters, which I did. Also, I had to administer seizer medicine, etc.

Rather than many doctor's saying condescendingly that schools need to reopen because we need to consider the whole child, let's start a conversation to come up with solutions. Most of us teachers do look at the whole child, we just know the limitations of the factories we call schools. 

As in special education, there are a continuum of services that can be offered. I believe the same should hold true when considering reopening during the pandemic (e.g. a hybrid model). A continuum of services (including settings should be offered) with the safety of children and our communities at the forefront of our decision making. With that, why not wait a couple more months for f2f instruction and continue distance education teaching until we have more answers and solutions? If teachers are stressed out and worried for theirs and their loved one's lives than that will definitely not be good for our students' mental health. It is a time for teachers to model how to take care of themselves and thereby we can help take care of our community. Sometimes when you don't have the answers it is best to wait.





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