Why the Manitoba Pediatric Society is calling for a return to in-class learning

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba Pediatric Society is calling for a return to classroom learning.

It said that due to the pandemic and distance learning, more children are dealing with mental health issues.

“A lot of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and certainly an increase in eating disorders,” said Dr. Marni Hanna, the president of the association.

Hanna said that pediatricians see these concerns mainly in adolescents, but also in some younger children.

According to the latest provincial data, covering the 14 days leading up to May 30, there are currently 335 COVID-19 cases in schools. Of these, 295 are among students and 40 among employees.

There are currently 392 distance learning schools in Manitoba, including all kindergarten through grade 12 schools in Winnipeg, Brandon, and Dauphin, as well as the Garden Valley and Red River Valley school districts. One hundred and seventy schools have one or more cases of COVID, according to the latest data, although the county notes that this does not necessarily mean that someone has contracted or transmitted the virus at school.

In mid-May, the Manitoba Pediatric Society sent a letter to public health officials and provincial ministers urging them to reopen the schools.

“We thank the Manitoba Pediatric Society for their letter and we agree that students learn best in the classroom,” Education Secretary Cliff Cullen said in a statement to CTV News.

“The more we follow public health measures and get the vaccine into the arms of Manitobans, the sooner we can get kids back to school.”

On Wednesday, the Ontario government announced that students in that province will continue to study remotely for the remainder of the school year.

“They couldn’t tell us that returning to classroom learning until more students and teachers are vaccinated will not lead to thousands upon thousands of new cases,” Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford said.

From now on, students in Winnipeg and Brandon are expected to learn in person again on Monday.

The county said it will share details in the coming days on whether students will be back in the classroom or distance learning for the rest of the year.

Although there are only a few weeks left in the school year, Hanna said being able to go back to school, even for a short time, can give them a sense of normalcy.

“It can help them become less anxious. It gives them something to look forward to,” Hanna said.

“For kids graduating or switching schools, it can give them a sense of closure.”

Hanna expects the mental health effects of the pandemic to continue long after students are back in school.

“Especially with fear. Children are afraid to leave their homes, wash their hands excessively and are afraid to hug people, which is not normal,” said Hanna.

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