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As the new school year begins, many children across the country will spend their first day back at school without mask requirements or other COVID-related mandates for the first time in two years.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, by the start of the new school year in 2021, nearly 75% of US schools will require concealment for students or teachers. Now, only a handful of schools require masks.
But for many, the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic remains. This is especially true in California, where schools have implemented some of the strictest COVID policies in the country. The state was one of the last states to reopen its schools.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which begins the new school year on Monday, reinstated mask mandates and testing over the summer but dropped them amid a major pushback.
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Multiple parents who spoke to Fox News Digital said they were relieved the mask mandates had been dropped but said the impact of the past 2 ½ years of COVID policies remains.
“Segregating kids, especially in Los Angeles, from their peers socially, academically and emotionally has had detrimental effects that we’re starting to feel,” Daniella Bloom, who attends a school in the Los Angeles area, told Fox News. Digital.
“When you take kids away from a seven-hour school day, where there are no sports and no social curricular activities, they have no choice but to turn to their electronics,” Bloom said. “And there’s just darkness there, because they’re already vulnerable and going through puberty and being subjected to a lot of groupthink and conformity.”
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Introverted and perhaps anxious children used the masks as a way to hide from the world, Bloom said.
The masks, he said, “make them very comfortable not to be exposed to the world.”
Another parent, Christina Irwin, said her oldest son, who was in middle school when COVID hit, went from “getting all F’s” to being a straight-A honor student.
“It’s two years of lost time,” Irwin said. “They literally didn’t care. And what I got was that the teachers didn’t care. They were showing me on Zoom videos, the teacher was cooking spaghetti … and then another teacher was changing a newborn’s diaper — just a baby screaming in the background. So it wasn’t conducive to learning.”
Irwin said he had high hopes for the coming year but said “the fight is not over.”
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Another Los Angeles-area parent told Fox News Digital that she watched her children go down a “rabbit hole” of social isolation and depression during the pandemic.
“I was so scared that I would walk into his room and he wouldn’t be with me anymore. He was so depressed. I remember him crying because he was so lonely,” she said.
Another of her children finished their senior year as Covid hit and started college the next school year at Chapman University in Orange County. But he succumbed to depression and heavy drug use, barely making it through his first semester.
Lance Christensen, who is running for superintendent of public education and has five children of his own in public school, said there is “frustration and frustration” when kids realize they are missing out.
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“Until kids start having this — these long bouts of depression and despair — where they think, ‘If I’m not going to go back to school, if I can’t play baseball, if I can’t go to the homecoming dance, or if I can’t be in the school play, finish playing my music to get that scholarship.’ – The frustration and despair was very dramatic,” he said.
Christensen told Fox News Digital that on his own network, he saw “dozens and dozens of kids” whose depression and anxiety skyrocketed.
“I personally know children who have committed suicide. I know other children who have attempted suicide in very dramatic ways,” he said.
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Christensen predicted that in the coming months and years, many districts and counties will continue to push COVID-related policies. Any child who normally wants to resume school and not be forced to abide by more restrictions “is going to have to be pushed back really hard,” he argued.
A decline in children’s well-being and mental health is reflected in recent studies. According to a recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, four in 10 parents say their children are falling behind academically.
Meanwhile, California enrollment has plummeted due to the Covid quarantine. LAUSD, for example, can’t say 20,000 students are missing from its roster, according to EdSource.
For now, many children and parents don’t need masks to see relief. Another LA-area parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said she hopes schools start doing more to build and create community.
“I think you’ll find a lot of parents and they’ll do whatever they can to help bring back that sense of community and do more things to socialize kids, because I think that helps them with their education and … child development,” she said.
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She told Fox News Digital that when Los Angeles schools eliminated the mask requirement in the spring, she saw a major difference in the well-being of her children.
“(My son) just said a couple of weeks ago, ‘I can’t believe I missed this,'” she said.
Irwin, who is running for the California Senate, said he is hopeful for the coming year but remains cautious. He predicts there will be significant pushback if schools try to reinstate COVID policies like masking or daily testing.
“I’m going to say right now, this is not going to work, this is not going to work with parents, this is not going to fly,” she said.
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Bloom, meanwhile, vowed parents will still go to school board meetings and fight recent Assembly bills “that directly interfere with our ability to parent our own children.”
“The fight is certainly not over,” he said. “Someone has to do this, and California parents are certainly at the forefront of this.”