PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — With about a week to go before school starts for Palm Beach County and Treasure Coast students -- and with COVID-19 cases on the rise -- parents and children have mixed emotions about returning to the classroom.
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"I do not want to witness my son being as sick as my daughter," Delray Beach mother Tara Smith said. "Her headache was so bad. She could not stop crying. No mom on this planet wants to see their adorable eight-year-old daughter screaming to high heaven because she's in pain."
Smith said she believes her daughter caught COVID-19 while at school and wearing a mask.
"Nobody in the family had it. She wasn't around any friends, anybody outside our little group. We didn't let her go anywhere. The only place she was was school and home. Where else would she get it?" Smith said.
Now Smith is worried about what the new school year will bring.
"I think you are playing Russian roulette when you are letting all these kids in the school who are unvaccinated without a mask," Smith said.
School districts in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties are all planning full returns to in-classroom instruction with optional masks for students, staff members, and visitors inside school buildings and on district transportation.
The divide over facial coverings is just one issue child psychiatrist Dr. Samantha Saltz said kids may deal with as they head back to the classroom.
"I already see children having higher levels of anxiety about going back to school," Saltz said. "There’s significant concerns about loneliness. They’ve been away for a while. They are concerned about how they are going to reintegrate with the other children socially, who they are going to fit in with, what kind of groups they are going to be a part of."
Saltz said that when it comes to masks, talk to your kids about how to handle questions from their classmates.
"Just kind of saying, this is what my parents told me to do and that's what I'm going to do," Saltz said. "Everyone has a difference of opinion and I'm going to respect yours and I kind of expect you to respect mine."
As parents, model the behavior you want them to show others.
Parents and students are feeling mixed emotions with about a week to go until the new school year. For some, it will be their first time back in the classroom in more than a year. WPTV connected you with medical and mental health experts on how to help your children through the transition and the signs to look for that they may be struggling. A live discussion took place Monday evening on WPTV's Facebook page.
The following guests joined the conversation and took your questions:
Dr. Samantha Saltz
Known to her patients as "Dr. Sam," Dr. Samantha Saltz is a board-certified child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist practicing in South Florida with an office in Boca Raton.
She serves as a voluntary assistant professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She enjoys connecting with her patients and appreciates them trusting her with their deepest feelings. She has worked with many young people throughout the pandemic as they deal with the mental toll it has taken on all of us.
Jordan Hernandez is a teacher at Boca Raton Community High School and has been focusing on inclusion and students' mental health for years. He helped start the "We Dine Together" program that gained national attention and helped ensure no student sat alone during lunchtime. Over the past year and a half, he has launched several school-wide initiatives to connect students during the pandemic, most recently doing a video series called "Motivational Mondays" to help students and staff members feel less alone in some of their struggles.
Andrea Greenlee is the director of school-based services for Tykes & Teens, a mental health service provider on the Treasure Coast that serves Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties. She is a licensed clinical social worker who has been with the organization for more than 20 years. Andrea oversees the care Tykes & Teens provides for clients in more than 30 elementary, middle and high schools across the area.
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"We want to be not emotional about all the decisions that we're making and just be rational," Saltz said. "Understand that if you are setting an example for your child not to accept somebody else, then you are also telling them that it's OK for other people not to accept them."
Saltz advised parents to look for physical signs that your kids are anxious, like stomach aches and headaches.
"I think the emotional health is just as important," Smith said. "I have no problem with my kids in school, but put a mask on."
Smith said her son will be in a mask at school and hopes for a safe and healthy school year.