Covid-19 has affected all of us in some way. Beyond the health repercussions, there has been an economic and mental health impact — increased homelessness, and boarded-up businesses in once-vibrant merchant corridors. Crime has increased, and the sale of homes and buildings has exploded with many families choosing more space, safer neighborhoods, or a lower cost of living, resulting in a mass exodus from the city.
San Francisco has long been an expensive city to live in and raise a family, now compounded by the virus and its ripple effects. One major demographic being left behind in the city’s reopening plan is our children. In mid-September, we entered the next phase of reopening — welcome news to those struggling small businesses, but playgrounds remain closed, and only schools that have applied for a waiver may reopen for in-person classes. This has left many to ask, “What about the kids?”
PLAYGROUNDS ARE ESSENTIAL
According to a recent survey, 78 percent of U.S. cities, including major urban cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Denver, have reopened their playgrounds. Many reopenings were based on updated research that shows a lower risk of Covid-19 transmission through touched surfaces, therefore making playgrounds low risk for exposure to the virus.
Our city’s Recreation and Parks Department sees a path to safely reopen playgrounds with increased signage, communication, and maybe even a playground ambassador program. However, despite this plan, the research and a Change.org petition signed by more than 1,500 parents have all fallen on deaf ears.
Playgrounds are essential to our city. They are also the most equitable public health tool we have. In San Francisco, parks and playgrounds are our living rooms, our backyards, and a safe space to build and create community.
It’s not just our children who are affected. Dr. Amy Busch, a San Francisco psychologist, has seen a large uptick in new moms and parents with young children seeking counseling for depression and anxiety. She says without playgrounds, these parents have no place to gather and connect, and consequently they feel very isolated.
KIDS NEED TO BE IN SCHOOL
The other area we have failed our children is in our school reopening plan. The school year began on a level playing field when all schools started remotely, but that won’t be the case for long. Despite getting the green light from the state to reopen schools, San Francisco is taking a very cautious approach. Here, schools must apply for permission to reopen based on their health and safety plans. Priority is given to elementary schools first, followed by middle schools, and high schools last. Whether our public schools will reopen at all this year remains unclear. Part of this is due to the teachers’ union and the district being unable to reach an agreement on the risks of teachers and staff returning to in-class instruction.
This is fully understandable. As a child of two educators, it is not lost on me the enormous load we are asking of our teachers and administrators; however, it is arguable that the children who need to be back in school the most probably won’t be this year. Dr. Alicia Lieberman, a University of California San Francisco professor and director of the Child Trauma Research Program, says besides the pandemic they are battling a silent epidemic of increased domestic violence and child abuse. Without teachers, counselors, or coaches in daily interaction with kids, abuse reporting is down. Lieberman says they are seeing an increased frequency and severity of child abuse cases in the emergency room. Families are under increased stress and feeling overwhelmed, especially low-income families living in crowded conditions.
Many of these children need to be in school for childcare, for safety, and for social and emotional well-being. Why aren’t we as a city making this a priority and reallocating resources to make it happen? We live in one of the wealthiest, most educated and technologically advanced cities in the world so when it comes to reopening all schools and playgrounds, throwing our hands up and saying we can’t figure it out is not acceptable. We need to do better for our children and for the families of San Francisco.
Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive and healthful conversations around social media and technology.
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