As public school systems throughout the state continue to adjust how and when they resume in-person classes, a recent survey conducted by the Alabama Education Association (AEA) earlier this month indicates thousands of teachers are still “uncomfortable” about returning to school.
In mid-July, AEA conducted a survey of thousands of teachers, administrators and support staff members about the various options for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 when classes resume in August.
Of the 40,997 respondents, 65 percent said they would be “very uncomfortable returning to their school” under the current conditions with many bringing up concerns about things like face coverings, social distancing, transportation and sanitation being practically implemented in a school setting.
Most of the respondents indicated they work in elementary schools, where experts believe younger students will have a tougher time following social distancing and hygiene guidelines. However, the survey included responses from educators in middle school, high school and colleges as well.
More than 60 percent said they would prefer to see schools reopen with only remote learning options — something that more than a dozen school systems, including the Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS), have already opted to do for at least the first nine weeks of the academic year.
Other systems are resuming in-person classes but plan to require most students and faculty members to wear face coverings and adopt enhanced cleaning and social distancing practices. All systems are offering some kind of online option for students who become ill or are at risk for complications from COVID-19.
Of the respondents to AEA’s survey, only a quarter for the 40,000-plus education professionals surveyed preferred that type of hybrid model using in-person and remote learning and even fewer (14 percent) believed schools “reopen as normal” with regular, in-person classes.
The comments submitted by some of the participants indicated that many had specific concerns about the type of work they performed at school. One respondent who oversees a school system’s IT department district said, if classes resume, technicians would have to be in and out of multiple buildings every day.
“If one of them contracts the virus, they could spread it all over before anyone knows,” they added.
Some educators expressed more personal concerns about the risks COVID-19 could pose to them or a family member. This was especially true among seasoned employees. According to AEA, 36 percent of respondents said they even entertained the idea of retiring to avoid returning to the classroom in August.
“I will be starting my 26th year. I am 60, my husband is a diabetic with a heart condition and my 90-year-old mother-in-law lives with us — this puts us at a very high risk,” one respondent wrote. “I have checked with [Retirement Systems of Alabama] about retiring, but I cannot afford to retire at this time due to high insurance costs. I would appreciate consideration of my situation.”
Some school systems have said they’ll work with teachers who have “high-risk” family members or are at risk of COVID-19 complications themselves — possibly allowing them to handle online classes or find another way to work remotely. Still, some systems like MCPSS are still requiring teachers to report to their classrooms to teach remotely because of the better equipment and internet reliability available at schools.
Despite the concern among AEA affiliated employees, most school systems in Alabama plan to resume in-person classes at varying levels as easy as next week. State officials like Gov. Kay Ivey has also been pushing schools to reopen if they feel they can do so safely at this time. Ivey has issued an order requiring teachers and students in the 2nd grade and above to wear face-coverings when at school.
State Superintendent Eric Mackey has deferred the decision to local boards of education so that they can make decisions tailored to their specific situations. While COVID-19 cases in Alabama have risen as a whole over the past month, some areas have been far more affected than others. Still, ideally, Mackey has said he would prefer to see as many school systems resume in-person classes as possible.
“There is no substitute for a highly-qualified, live, human teacher in a classroom with students. There’s a personal interaction that simply cannot be replicated with online learning,” Mackey said. “I personally believe every school district should be offering an in-person option for every child and a remote option for every child and letting the parents choose. There are about 15 school districts going in a different direction, but it’s my job to make sure we support them in the best ways we possibly can.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).