CABARRUS COUNTY — Members of the public had a lot of good things to say at the Cabarrus County Board of Education’s regular meeting Monday, but one quote in particular is very hard to forget: “We are getting an increased number of parents bringing their children to DHS and leaving them. Hear me say that — they are leaving them.”
COVID-19 has affected every level of society in the United States since the virus was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11.
Unemployment hit a record high in the U.S. in April, countless families have since dealt with food insecurity and millions more have lost their health insurance. This is in addition to the more than 200,000 who have reportedly died from COVID-19.
Fortunately, research has shown the fatality rate due to COVID-19 is very low in children as opposed to a virus like the flu. As of Oct. 2, no children up to the age of 19 have died from the virus in Cabarrus County and the death rate nationally is less than a tenth of a percent up to age 17 and less than half of a percent between the ages of 18 and 29.
But the effects of COVID-19 cannot simply be measured by the fatality rate, and children across Cabarrus County are being greatly affected by this virus, according to Paula Yost who spoke to the board on behalf of Cabarrus County’s Child Protection and Fatality Team on Monday.
“We absolutely do not want to review a COVID-caused child fatality,” she said. “We also do not want to have to deal with the mental health issues caused by the death of their teacher.
“However, some of these children have problems that are worse than COVID, were here before COVID, and will be here long after COVID.”
Since Gov. Roy Cooper closed schools as educational buildings in March, Cabarrus County has seen an increase in foster care numbers across the area.
According to Yost, foster care numbers in Cabarrus County normally sit around 100 to 120. Since the shutdowns due to COVID-19, foster care numbers have averaged 150 to 160.
The reason for that shows a harsh reality of what the county is seeing.
“We are getting an increased number of parents bringing their children to DHS and leaving them,” Yost said. “Hear me say that — they are leaving them.”
She added this increase in numbers is happening with older children whose home lives are seeing issues daily.
“Once these children get into foster care their negative behaviors are significantly diminishing,” she said. “The children say that the negative home environment triggered the negative behaviors.
“We strongly recommend that communications between agencies, such as Child Protective Services and the Department of Juvenile Justice be occurring with all of you because you need to have a broad view of what these children need in the school environment, along with support for teachers and administrators working with high-risk students.”
Cabarrus County is not immune to food insecurity and unemployment. People in this area are struggling and that is not just financially.
According to an article published Monday in the medical journal JAMA by authors from New York University's Grossman School of Medicine, "A second wave of devastation is imminent, attributable to mental health consequences of COVID-19.
"The magnitude of this second wave is likely to overwhelm the already frayed mental health system, leading to access problems, particularly for the most vulnerable persons."
Research has found that those who struggled with addiction before the pandemic have had those issues resurface since shutdowns in March.
Cabarrus County has not been immune to those problems, according to Yost.
“Children all across this county are being exposed to increases in domestic violence, to parents who are suffering from addiction, and children all across this county are not being properly supervised because their parents simply have to work,” she said. “Whether we like to classify school as childcare or not the American reality is that for many families that is what it is. You cannot work if you are worried about your children and school is a safe place where they are nurtured and educated.
“Many children in this county are also victims of child sexual abuse. Studies have shown that child sex abuse victims are most likely to report that abuse to a trusted friend at school or to a teacher. Right now those children have absolutely no outlet.”
Cabarrus County Schools will have children back starting next week under Gov. Cooper’s Plan B, however they will still be spending a significant amount of time at home as they will only be on campus for a couple days a week.
Originally the Board of Education voted to send students in pre-K through third grade back under Plan A for four days a week, but they revoted and decided to bring them back under Plan B at a meeting last week.
Many parents will have to continue to stay home and work from there as their students need supervision. The care students would normally get every single day in a normal year at their schools will not be available for a while as the infection rate for COVID-19 in the County remains above 5%.
This creates challenges for those parents who have to continue to either work from home or not work at all due to having to supervise their children. Many parents of the more than 1,000 who signed a petition to bring students in pre-K through third grade back under Plan A have said just this.
The challenges Yost mentioned will always be there, but during COVID-19 shutdowns they are more prevalent and will continue to be so until schools get back to normal capacity.
This doesn’t mean schools should just go back to normal immediately. There are legitimate concerns with doing that, and further still, there are staff members who would be at risk if this happened.
Multiple individuals spoke at Monday’s meeting saying those people were not being allowed to teach from home if they were at-risk. Cabarrus County Schools would not talk specifically about any instances of this, but they did say they are looking into these requests.
“Privacy laws prohibit the district from sharing information about specific employees,” CCS Director of Communications and Public Information Ronnye Boone said in an email. “However, all requests for accommodations are given careful attention, and decisions are based on the facts of each particular case.”
While students appear to suffer more mild symptoms and transmit the virus less frequently, according to early studies into the virus, those who are older than 65 have a fatality rate of 12% in the County when contracting COVID-19, according to Cabarrus Health Alliance.
National studies have also shown the immunosuppressed, as well as individuals with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, are vulnerable as well. There are individuals in this category throughout Cabarrus County Schools and they should be considered when decisions are being made.
Keeping these staff members safe is just as essential as protecting students.
But some children in the county are struggling and that is something that must be weighed in every vote the Board of Education takes, according to Yost.