Child psychiatrist on the switch back to distance learning

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(ABC 6 News) – With Rochester Public Schools announcing that it’s switching back to distance learning through January 28, many families are struggling to quickly adapt to the change. Caregivers also struggle to help their children adapt to being away from the classroom.

"It’s important to just recognize that this is stressful," Dr. Chad Puffer, a child psychiatrist with PrairieCare Medical Group Southern MN, said.

According to Puffer, it is important to not shoulder this stress alone. While some think it’s easy to brush off the disappointment and move forward, pausing to acknowledge bad feelings teaches children healthy coping mechanisms.

"Its okay and helpful often times to say as a parent — ‘this is frustrating and this is hard’ because it validates the feelings that the kid is having," he said.

Puffer says parents of children who use school-linked services like counseling or school lunches, or is in special education should be extra attentive to mental health.

"That might be emotional difficulties, academic struggles, financial struggles in the family," he said.

Jaime Coppage has four children at Rochester Public Schools in kindergarten through ninth grade. Her daughter Jayleigh is eight years old. She has never had a normal school year.

"All she’s known is social distancing, masking, online learning," Coppage said.

Jayleigh says she’s looking forward to doing school on the couch in her pajamas. Her 13 year old brother General, however, is discouraged and sad.

"They need that interaction with the peers and they need that interaction with the teachers," Coppage said of her kids.

RPS Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel says they expect to be back to in-person learning on January 28. He said that the switch to distance is not because of the surging case numbers, but because of staffing shortages.