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By Kristin David
I am a licensed clinical psychologist with a postdoctoral degree in child development. I am also a mother of three students in the East Greenwich public school system. Most would describe me as an old school liberal. I am writing to express my concerns with continued mask mandates for students in EG public schools.
I have always cared deeply about the wellness and health of children. I am lucky enough to have worked in a variety of settings, such as children’s hospitals, schools, family medical practices, and specialty outpatient. I delivered care throughout this pandemic and continue to be an active provider. As expected, initially, there was an increase in pandemic-related anxiety and grief, however, after 18 months the research is out: anxiety, depression, and suicidality are presenting at astounding rates in kids, all of which are exacerbated by social isolation. Recent published data estimates that suicide attempts are up 51 percent in girls. Are we really doing no harm?
In addition to the psychological toll, my knowledge of the development of empathy, compassion, nonverbal skills, communication, and learning raises concerns with the long-term use of mandated face coverings in schools. These skills, such as empathy and compassion, are not taught in a lesson plan. Instead, they develop over time in the context of relationships. Some examples, tone of voice, facial expressions, nonverbal modeling, storytelling, playing, emotion coaching and a whole lot of subtle interchanges. All of these are inhibited, if not prohibited, by face masks. Many argue that masking is a minor inconvenience for the good of everyone. However, continuing to mask students may not be a harm-free effort. It can negatively impact learning and may contribute to social, emotional, and psychological harm.
A long-term health recommendation in schools that takes little account of how children develop and what they need emotionally to grow is unlikely to be successful. East Greenwich citizens, regardless of whether or not they have a student in the schools, are wise to consider the long-term effects of limiting the amount of face-to-face human contact that children experience during school hours.
The potential societal, educational, social, and emotional harms of limiting human contact and social modeling are established. Policy makers have an obligation to be very aware of what children have lost and stand to lose.
Kristin David, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist, lives in East Greenwich and has three children in EG schools.