A growing concern among school districts is the mental health of all of their collective students during the COVID-19 pandemic as a lot of kids have had to be in online learning since March.

The Lodi schools are currently in an enhanced online model, with a plan to switch to blended learnimg on Jan. 19. All students have been in an online model since March.

At the Lodi School Board meeting on Dec. 14, Director of Student Services, Tiffany Loken, gave a presentation on behalf of the Lodi Community Action Team (LCAT) in regards to the mental health of students during the pandemic.

“Mental health affects all of us all the time,” LCAT Chairman and school board member Steven Ricks said prior to the presentation.

Loken began by referencing a 2019 school district survey, in which 46% of Lodi High School students experienced some form of anxiety in the previous 12 months (48% of LMS students). Also 25% of LHS and LMS students said they experienced prolonged, disruptive cases of sadness in the previous 12 months. Also, 16% of LHS students — and 26% of LMS students — said they seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months.

“Mental health has been on our radar well before COVID-19,” Loken said, adding that another district-wide mental health survey of students will be taken in 2021.

Wisconsin is ranked 30th out of all 50 states in suicide rate with 139 deaths per 100,000 people (13.9 average) aged 15-19 as of 2017. The national average is 11.1, and as of 2017, the second-leading cause of death in the nation among those aged 15-24 is suicide.

In the presentation, Loken said that Lodi EMS fielded two calls in 2020 for school-aged children threatening suicide.

She then referenced a national survey from 2018, where 27% of teens reported they were unhappy or dissatisfied with life. She then compared that to a 2020 survey, where the number dropped to 20% of teens saying they were unhappy or dissatisfied with life while school was virtual.

Also in the national survey, it was reported that teens had been getting more sleep per night during the pandemic. In 2018, 55% of teens reported getting seven or more hours of sleep a night. That was compared to the now 84% in 2020. Looking at Lodi for this year, 31% of LHS students reported getting eight or more hours of sleep per night, with that number even higher among LMS students (50%).

According to the report, it appears like the mental health of school-aged children has actually improved overall during the pandemic and the period of online learning. Several reasons are factors, according to Loken and the report. Fifty-six percent of students surveyed said they are spending more time with their families, 54% said they are now eating together as a family, and 68% said their families are now closer because of the pandemic.

However, there are still negatives, as more time with family could mean more time in abusive relationships. Also, parents who are essential workers, aren’t home as much as others.

Looking at other negative impacts is that 25% of students said that a parent has lost a job due to the pandemic, with 33% of teens worried about their families getting/having food. So the financial impact of the pandemic has impacted the mental health of students, Loken concluded. Also, students in historically marginalized groups (poverty, students of color, LGBTQ) report more mental health concerns.

But some students have shown resiliency through the pandemic. Loken said that local data does not show a huge spike in mental health needs, but the district anticipates increased needs as students return to a form of in-person instruction on Jan. 19.

District to provide temporary COVID-19 leave for staff

Also during its Dec. 14 meeting, the School Board approved a new form of paid leave for all staff members — that addresses COVID-19 — that will begin Jan. 1.

Many teachers were covered under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLA), but any federal aid for things COVID-19 related expires at the end of the calendar year. A secondary coverage is also set to expire at the end of the year, so the district wants there to be a way for it to help its staff.

District Administrator Vince Breunig said a short-term disability option was available, but it couldn’t be accessed until the staff members was gone at least 60 days, and the district already offers a long-term disability plan.

The Board approved a temporary district-sponsored COVID-19 related leave for all staffers who may need it. Breunig said that a personal doctor, medical profession or school nurse needs to order that the individual stay home. Several staff members can’t work from home, like custodians, so this is the district’s way of still being able to offer that help and support.

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