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Reopening of Schools in British Columbia and Its Psychological Effects

Some Canadian students, including those in British Columbia, are expected to return to school full-time in September. But the stress, anxiety, and the unknown leave people wondering: What psychological effects will this have on children, parents, and the staff needed to support them? What are citizens doing in response to this?


Firstly, let’s address the reopening of schools in British Columbia. According to BC's Restart Plan, schools will enter stage 2 in September, dictating maximized in-class learning in groups of 60 for elementary and middle school students and 120 for secondary school students. The students will not be required to distance themselves within their learning groups, though physical distancing will be maintained outside of these cohorts. Schools will not be permitted to enter stage one until Phase 4 of BC’s Restart Plan is reached, which includes obtaining wide vaccination, community immunity and/or broad successful treatments.


Regarding these decisions, many health professionals urge for a return to school as long as proper physical distancing and hygiene measures are maintained. School closures are affecting all students (both academically and mentally) especially ones with special needs and families who are part of a lower socioeconomic status.

“Schools are more than places of learning,” says Dr. Karen Leis, a Saskatchewan pediatrician and chair of the CPS’s Action Committee for Children and Teens in a press release. “They provide important mental health support, nutritious food and – for some children – a refuge.”

Studies have shown that school routines are vital to students and adolescents coping with mental health issues.

“Going to school had been a struggle for [some children with depression] prior to the pandemic, but at least they had school routines to stick with”, said Zanonia Chiu, a registered clinical psychologist working with children and adolescents. “Now that schools are closed, some lock themselves up inside their rooms for weeks, refusing to take showers, eat, or leave their beds.”

On the other hand, many parents are worried about their children’s safety. One of many parents, Edmond Luk, is afraid of forcefully sending children back to school. Because of this, he began a petition opting for an “optional/voluntary” return to school which has already received over 28000 signatures. Other parents worry that schoolchildren will expose this virus to immunocompromised family members or elders, as elders are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19.


Because of these differing perspectives, the reopening of schools can be a stressful time for many, particularly children. Here are some things that parents/staff can do to support children during this turmoil:

  1. Listen to what they have to stay: Many people feel much better after speaking out about their feelings, worries, or other thoughts

  2. Educate them: Make sure to explain the situation in a positive way whenever possible, to try to avoid too much uncertainty in these already uncertain times.

  3. Set a good example: When a child sees that adults act in a calm and mature manner, they are most likely to react similarly.


If someone is struggling with their mental health, make sure to direct them to support services. Here are a few useful examples:

  • Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre: Provides many resources including advice for school professionals, adults, and caregivers, youth, and young adults.

  • Child and Youth Mental Health (BC): Offers free walk-in/virtual mental support services

  • Good2talk (Ontario and Nova Scotia): Offers post-secondary students aged 17-24 free and confidential mental support services.

  • Hope for Wellness (Canadian Indigenous peoples): Offers immediate mental health counselling

(More can be found at our Resource Hub)


Although the fear of the unknown is normal, we as children, youth, parents, teachers, and health officials will learn to navigate through these times. Together, we will determine what is optimal for all citizens.


Article Contributors: Valerie Shirobokov, Michelle Xiao

Sources:


“BC's Restart Plan.” Province of British Columbia, 24 June 2020,

www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/covid-19-

provincial-support/phase-4.


“Covid-19's Impact on Students' Academic and Mental Well-Being.” Edutopia, 4 Aug. 2020,

www.edutopia.org/article/covid-19s-impact-students-academic-and-mental-well-being.


Lee, Joyce. “Mental Health Effects of School Closures during COVID-19.” The Lancelet, 14 Apr.

2020, www.thelancet.com/journals/lanchi/article/PIIS2352-4642(20)30109-7/fulltext.


“Returning to School After an Emergency or Disaster.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

20 Feb. 2020, www.cdc.gov/childrenindisasters/school-return-after.html.


“Returning to School after the Coronavirus Lockdown.” Mental Health Foundation, 6 Aug. 2020,

www.mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus/returning-school-after-lockdown.


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