Most New Jersey schools show every indication that “the usual” has returned after two years of COVID, but Senator Kristin Corrado cautions that things aren’t always as they appear.
“The horrible masks are off, the daily COVID numbers have calmed, and people are relieved that at last, we’re getting back to normal,” said Senator Corrado (R-40). “But for thousands of students who saw their school lives and educations twisted, torn and battered by the pandemic, they continue to struggle in silence and secrecy.”
This week, the lede paragraph in a report published by Politico New Jersey was clear: “New Jersey is in the midst of a pandemic-related student mental health crisis and the state’s systems of support are overwhelmed, experts say.”
Corrado, a staunch advocate for the physical and emotional health of school children throughout the COVID crisis, introduced legislation to help address the hidden danger within New Jersey classrooms.
The Senator’s bill, S-2306, would establish a task force to study impact of COVID-19 on children’s health and consider potential solutions.
“There is no time to waste,” said Corrado. “I am hopeful the Legislature will act now, before budget season kicks into gear. This is a problem that will continue to spiral out of control if we don’t make appropriate care and intervention available to young people who have been disoriented by seemingly unending stress, anxiety, social isolation, and sadness relating to the pandemic.
“We know early intervention is crucial for those living with depression or other emotional challenges,” Corrado continued.
Under Corrado’s bill, the 15-member New Jersey COVID-19 Children’s Health Task Force would be established. The members would include the commissioners of Children and Families, Education, and Health, and a representative of the Division of Children’s System of Care in the Department of Children and Families.
On Monday, the Senate Education Committee heard from a slate of experts testifying about the mental health crisis in schools, calling for more money for schools, and seeking clarification of the responsibilities of school counselors.
“Statistics show that school-age children are extremely vulnerable, with some estimates that as many as 20 percent of teenagers are living with mental health issues,” Corrado said. “With the pressures of the pandemic, combined with cyberbullying, these kids need help now.
“The recent increases in drug abuse, overdose and suicide make it clear that this is an emergency, and swift action is imperative,” Corrado stated.
Under the bill, the task force will study the effects of New Jersey’s response to COVID-19 on the mental and physical health of the state’s children. Among other considerations, it will examine the rate of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, stress, and suicide as it relates to the state’s pandemic measures, and the education of students, including test scores, educational standards, the effects of the inability to learn in person, and delays in children learning to speak, read and write.