All schools in Ferguson, Missouri, cancelled classes on Monday, delaying the start of the school year again for some 11,000 students.
Citing safety concerns and “continued disruption affecting our students and families in the area,” the Ferguson-Florissant School District said schools would remain closed until further notice. Classes were scheduled to begin last Thursday.
That means children in Ferguson have not attended school since the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was fatally shot by a police officer on Aug. 9.
Dr. Marva Robinson, a clinical psychologist and president of the St. Louis chapter of the Association of Black Psychologists, said she was concerned how children were coping after
“Their innocence and very pure, unfiltered look at life has been forever changed by this experience starting with their own community member slain in their streets,” Dr. Robinson said.
“What children are seeing is causing psychological scars that will last a very long time.”
“I can’t even tell you how many children were out in front of the police tape watching Michael Brown’s body laying on the ground for four hours,” she said in a phone interview on Monday.
Dr. Robinson has been spending time at the Canfield Green apartment complex near the area where Brown was killed. The apartment complex has become a rallying point for protesters. Dr. Robinson said children living in the apartments walk by the memorials every day and hear tear gas canisters explode at night.
Killings and protests are unusual in Ferguson. In 2012, there were only two murders in the St. Louis suburb of 21,000 residents. In 2011, five murders were reported, according to police.
“Their innocence starting being chipped away at the moment the kids saw police guards become militarized,” Dr. Robinson said, referring to the Ferguson police’s use of military-style equipment during the protests.
A child, who was being held by her mother who was protesting the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, holds up her hands on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
“For these children to also see people who are supposed to stand up for them in a peaceful way and then have things turn violent and to see videos of people taking things from stores and burning things to the ground, that has also chipped away at their innocence,” she said.
Brown graduated from Normandy High School, a highly segregated school were 98 percent of students are black, according to the most recent data available from 2011. At Normandy, only 58 percent of students graduate, compared to an average of 80 percent in the state of Missouri.
“You took my son away from me,” Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, told the television news station KMOV. “Do you know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate? You know how many black men graduate? Not many. Because you bring them down to this type of level, where they feel like they don’t got nothing to live for anyway.”
Dr. Robinson said school authorities and parents should encourage kids to talk about what they’re seeing.
Nineteen-year-old Emanuel Freeman looks out from a balcony in his apartment building as demonstrators rally in the street where eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was killed. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
When students in Ferguson do return to school, they will have access to at least one mental health professional on each campus, said Julie Leicht, the interim executive director at St. Louis County Children's Service Fund.
The county has also set up a hotline where young people can call to talk to a mental health professional.
“Right now we don’t know if people are ready for counseling because it’s too raw, “ Leicht said. “But we are poised and ready to go.”