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 in-class learning.

It said as a result of the pandemic and remote learning, more children are dealing with mental health issues.

“A lot of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and definitely also an increase in eating disorders,” said Dr. Marni Hanna, the society’s president.

Hanna said pediatricians are primarily seeing these concerns among adolescents, but also in some younger children.

According to the latest provincial data, which covers the 14 days prior to May 30, there are currently 335 COVID-19 cases in schools. Of those, 295 are among students and 40 among staff.

There are currently 392 schools in remote learning in Manitoba, which includes all Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools in Winnipeg, Brandon, and Dauphin, as well as the Garden Valley and Red River Valley School Districts. One hundred seventy schools have one or more COVID cases according to the latest data, though the province notes that doesn’t necessarily mean a person acquired 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 schools.

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

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

On Wednesday, the Ontario government announced students in that province will continue remote learning for the remainder of the school year.

“They couldn’t tell us that returning to in-class learning before more students and teachers are vaccinated won’t lead to thousands and thousands of new cases,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

As of now, students in Winnipeg and Brandon are slated to go back to in-person learning on Monday.

The province said it will be sharing details in the coming days on whether students will be back in class or learning remotely for the remainder of the year.

While there are only a few weeks left in the school year, Hanna said getting kids back to school, even for a short time, can help give them a sense of normalcy.

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

“For children who are graduating or switching schools, it can help give them a sense of closure.”

Hanna expects the mental health impacts of the pandemic will likely continue long after students are back in school.

“Especially with anxiety. Children are afraid to leave their houses, and are washing their hands excessively, and are afraid to hug people, and that’s not normal,” said Hanna.  

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