Superintendent Deena Bishop was correct in her statement that “COVID-19 is killing our children in more ways than one.” However, mental health issues are not a new issue, nor one caused by COVID-19. In fact, for the past decade and a half, student suicide rates have been on the rise, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control in 2018. If Dr. Bishop truly cared for her students' mental health, she would have taken measures to provide support years ago.
While the district’s resolve to improve its students' mental health by providing social interaction is commendable, Bishop herself admits Alaska’s coronavirus rates will not fall from high to medium risk for at least another year. Furthermore, considering the history of mental health issues in Anchorage schools, we know mental health has historically been pushed to the wayside. This shows us just how disingenuous the district’s efforts are.
If the district truly cared about students' mental health, it would have changed school start times, as was proposed by Superintendent Bishop in 2018. A study from the CDC connects schools' early start to mental health issues, especially depression, and substance abuse. However, the school board elected, in October of 2018, not to push back high school start times. Regardless of the reasons or circumstances, this shows a disregard for students' mental health. Despite what they may say about caring for student’s mental health, their actions speak louder than her words.
Superintendent Bishop also disregards the threat a return to in-person school would pose to teachers and staff. According to the same article in the ADN, 80% of teachers are afraid to go back and 25% of teachers may refuse to go back to in-person schooling. Bishop even went as far as to say that she is happy with that result because, if they are scared, that gives them motivation to be extra careful. Such a blatant disregard for the teachers' health should tell us everything we need to know about her plan.
Ella Mayo-Kiely and Aaron Seaver
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