Letter to the Editor: Student safety beyond COVID-19

Published 8:10 am Monday, October 11, 2021

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To the Editor:

Now that students are back at in-person school, much-needed and missed extracurriculars like Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) are back on campuses across North Carolina. Schools, parents and students are practicing mitigation practices to limit COVID-19 exposure. But we need to work together to address the mental health and substance use crisis caused by COVID-19 and focus on the leading cause of death for teens, motor vehicle crashes.

While the “100 Deadliest Days” of summer are over (the time of year with the highest rate of fatal teen crashes), there are other lingering risks from the last year and a half of challenges. The CDC conducted a survey in 2020 that concluded 25% of young adults had either started or increased substance use during the quarantine, some as an unhealthy form of coping. According to the organization Mental Health America, 15% of North Carolina youth have experienced a major depressive episode within the last year. For many students, returning to school does not mean everyone has recovered from the challenges of Covid, both physically and mentally.

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Additionally, there are challenges unrelated to Covid facing teens that cannot be ignored. According to the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, in 2019, there were 10,184 teen crashes by distracted driving. That same year, 45% of teens involved in fatal crashes were not wearing their seatbelts and more than 11,000 teens were injured because they weren’t wearing seat belts. Lastly, according to the CDC, in 2019, approximately 1 in 5 North Carolina students were bullied. These risks with balancing academic and personal responsibilities can be overwhelming for anyone, young people in particular.

As a national non-profit, SADD’s priority is student’s safety and wellbeing, including Covid-19 and beyond. As an extracurricular, SADD allows students to collaborate to support their peers to ensure everyone has a safe and successful school year. For example, this October, SADD will be partnering with the National Road Safety Foundation to host a contest for students to create ideas for public service announcements that discourage driving under the influence of marijuana. This is just one of many campaigns that SADD offers to schools, communities and young people. Please take steps to ensure your family’s safety, as helping save lives is as simple as committing to always buckling up and never texting while driving. Visit sadd.org to learn more and get started. For more information and resources on teen driver safety visit the North Carolina Department of Transportation, https://www.ncdot.gov/initiatives-policies/safety/driving-safety/Pages/teen-driver-safety.aspx.

Aaron Medina

North Carolina state coordinator for SADD