Open letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom from California Policy Center’s Parent Union Director Rebecca Holz, and Deputy Director Celeste Fiehler:
The Honorable Gavin Newsom
Governor, State of California
1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Dear Governor Newsom,
As you repeatedly remind us to “follow the science” on COVID-19, we have little doubt you’ve already seen the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) report on the devastating impact of extended school lockdowns on our nation’s teens. The bottom line: Two years of isolation, anxiety and stress have produced a severe mental health crisis among America’s teenagers.
According to the CDC, more than one of every three high school students experienced poor mental health; two in five high school students report experiencing emotional distress; nearly half of students felt persistently sad or hopeless; and, shockingly, one in 10 high school students attempted suicide.
It turns out that our teens were not as “resilient” as proponents of long-term school lockdowns, including California’s teachers unions, portrayed them. In fact, while the nation’s youth were the least vulnerable to becoming severely ill or dying from COVID-19, they were perhaps the most vulnerable population for mental health distress during the pandemic.
Sadly, teens were at the bottom of the list to be protected. Schools were closed down for a year and a half, sports and extracurricular activities were put on hold, parks and beaches were declared off limits. Is it any surprise these high school students were depressed?
Who was looking out for their interests during California’s unnecessary and prolonged COVID-19 restrictions, which were some of the most restrictive in the nation and among the last to be lifted?
Governor, while you were meeting with the teachers unions to accommodate their demands, the state of California ignored our teens’ fundamental needs. While your children were attending in-person, private school, the state’s union-controlled schools were locked down until Fall of 2021.
Your policies — and your refusal to stand up to California’s teachers unions — are responsible for these grim statistics. Each one of these “numbers” represents a teen struggling because you put politics before common sense. You let our children languish while teachers unions leveraged the pandemic not to help educators, students or families, but to flex their political power.
At California Policy Center’s Parent Union, we are hearing from parents, students and educators who are coping with the fallout of your unnecessary school lockdowns. We are sharing the stories of Californians in their own words, to shine a light on the traumatic impact your policies have had on them.
Here’s what they have to say to you, Governor Newsom:
A high school freshman in LAUSD, California’s largest school district:
“I had struggled with depression for a few years, but it had been under control. Lockdowns were during my freshman year of high school. I didn’t have a chance to make new connections and didn’t have anyone to talk to during lockdowns. I had no connection with my teachers or peers. I would turn on my class, shut off my camera and sleep. I did this for weeks because I was so depressed. It was so easy to sink into a depressive episode without anyone even noticing. I fell apart because I couldn’t leave the house or see other people. My family didn’t see any of the signs. It didn’t end well for me. I tried to kill myself last February. I was admitted into a mental health hospital. This was easily the worst my life had ever been. It has been a long road to recovery. I am feeling better and am now back to in-person schooling. It has made a huge difference for me.”
A Kern County high school senior:
“During the lockdowns, I developed a hair pulling disorder that is from major anxiety. My parents were essential workers so I was home alone all day. It was really hard because I felt alone and couldn’t motivate myself to do online learning. It was hard to get up and sign on for class. All I did was sleep during lockdowns. When I was awake, I would get mad at myself for sleeping all day and not doing my classwork, so I ended up crying. The crying made me tired and I would fall asleep. It was a terrible, exhausting cycle I was in for over a year. In school, I was on the basketball team. Our season was canceled so I wasn’t active at all. I saw no point in even getting out of bed. After a while, only one teacher reached out to me and I started to open up to her. She helped me and now I am doing better. I still have major anxiety and I have a hard time talking to people and making friends. Every day is a little better, but I am still struggling.”
A grandmother of a high school student in Riverside County:
“Our grandson was a 4.0 GPA student, varsity wrestler (in his freshman, sophomore years). COVID-19 lockdowns occurred in his junior and senior years. The downward spiral began with the lockdown and he has now gone over the edge with drugs, inappropriate behavior, isolation and anger outbursts. He dropped out of school three weeks before graduation. He was failing in all his classes. He dropped out of wrestling. We tried! We all tried to reach him. Today, he scares me. I am afraid of my own grandson. There is this darkness that is frightening. Was the lockdown worth losing our children! We are ‘normal’ working class people. He is not the only child I know of that fell into the COVID void.”
Coach Shmoke, a football coach in Long Beach:
“This fall, as kids came back to school after being off campus for a year and a half, it was really hard. There was definitely an uptick in kids who struggled more than moderately. There were more individual instances that were serious in nature. We saw significant mental health issues that caused kids to miss school, some indefinitely. As an adult who is charged with the well-being of students, this has been difficult to watch. I have four children, so I saw how difficult it was for many families. California mandates were the most extreme in the country and the kids felt it.”
Mark MacDonald, M.D., serving Southern California:
“For the first time in my career, a high school patient in Santa Monica died of a fentanyl overdose while confined to his home in 2020. The only high school patients in my practice that are doing as well emotionally today as they were two years ago are the ones who are home-schooled and managed to avoid the worst of the lockdowns. My male high school patients have gained weight and lost self-confidence after nearly two years of no access to group sports. Many of my high school patients have found themselves unable to return to school, re-engage in actual social life, and maintain adequate emotional functioning. They are depressed, anxious, and on the verge of institutionalization.”
Governor, these stories are heartbreaking. There is no better example of how out-of-touch California’s teachers unions are with the needs of students and families than the tragedy of their insistence on extended school shutdowns. Now, these same unions have the audacity to be encouraging their members to strike around the state, shutting down schools when what California’s students need most is for schools to stay open.
It’s time for you to put children and families first and stop bowing to teachers unions’ demands. We, the parents, educators and concerned citizens who are members of Parent Union, ask you to put the focus back on our children. California’s 1.7 million high school students and their families deserve better.
Rebecca Holz, Director, Parent Union
Celeste Fiehler, Deputy Director, Parent Union
Rebecca Holz is the Director of California Policy Center’s Parent Union
Celeste Fiehler is Parent Union’s Deputy Director.
Parent Union engages, organizes and trains parents, students and community members to defend the constitutional right to a high-quality public education for all students.