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Inslee cites mental health as a reason for students to return to Washington classrooms

Following Gov. Jay Inslee’s proclamation to expand in-person learning at schools, parents are excited but hope mental health resources are available for students.

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has issued an emergency proclamation requiring schools to give all students the option for in-person learning at least two days a week by April 19. It's a decision many parents are celebrating as they worry about the long-term effects the pandemic could have on their kids. 

"We’re doing this because we’ve experienced a mental health crisis for many of our children," said Inslee during a news conference Friday. "And this will provide them an option that suits their needs of their families…"

"We do feel that finally, you know, a lot of our concerns have been heard," said Moya Skillman, a Bellevue parent of two and part of the Washington Alliance 4 Kids.

"I do feel like my kids have done relatively well," said Skillman, adding, "They definitely have days where they feel very isolated and depressed. And what is the reason to even get out of bed? You know, there's no structure, there's no 'what are we doing this for?'"

Skillman said the difference she sees in her kids now from a year ago is very telling. "When I see them acting that way, and it's such a change from how they were, you know, a year and a half ago, it's really difficult to know we’re a year into this, and the damage that has taken effect in a lot of these kids," she said. 

She said even with the support of their family and community, the pandemic has worn on them.

"I think as a parent, you know, this last year, it's been a lot of, you know, trying to put a happy face on things," said Skillman. "And then you go back into your own bedroom, you're like, 'oh, my gosh, how many times do I have to talk my kids through, you know, brighter days are ahead.' I think, you know, open communication as a parent with your kids is important on so many levels, and definitely, a lot of us have been doing that all year this year."

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Skillman said she's had several conversations with her kids as they cope with the pandemic. 

"Well, we just talked a lot about, you know, things not being permanent forever. So you know, it won't be this way forever. I'm trying to remain hopeful, trying to maintain optimism," she said.

A 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found there was approximately a 24% increase in the number of emergency department visits related to mental health for children aged 5--11 between April and October 2020, compared to 2019. There was about a 31% increase for children aged 12-17 during the same time period in 2020, according to the report. 

Skillman said school districts should prioritize mental health for students as they return. "This won't just be over the moment schools are back in session," she said. Skillman also said while Inslee's proclamation is a good start -- schools should fully reopen. 

"The quickest way to getting on the road to recovery, for mental health, is to get these kids back in school," said Skillman. 

RELATED: Some Washington parents push for full return to in-person learning