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AEA survey: 68% of teachers ‘very uncomfortable’ returning to school

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Seventy percent of recently surveyed Alabama educators said remote learning should be the only option when the school year begins.

An Alabama Education Association survey conducted July 13-15 received 40,997 responses from teachers, administrators and support professionals. The largest group of respondents work in elementary schools, but middle and high schools and higher education were also represented.

The survey results, which are not scientific, were released Tuesday. They showed:

68% of teachers are “very uncomfortable” returning to school in the fall if conditions then are like they are now.

Asked if COVID-19 has made them think about retiring earlier than expected or leaving the education profession, 43% of administrators, 35% of teachers and 31% of support professionals said yes.

Earlier this month, Alabama Daily News reported that some school leaders are concerned about potential COVID-19-related staff shortages if personnel take leave because of safety concerns or if they are exposed to or contract the virus.

“The purpose of the survey was to hear from our members about how they feel returning to school,” AEA President Sherry Tucker said in a written statement. “With 65% of survey participants being uncomfortable returning to their school building for the 2020-2021 school year and 36% considering leaving the profession or retiring early due to the virus, it is clear there are real issues and legitimate concerns regarding health and safety of students and educators. Our educators know their students and communities best and we need to listen to their concerns.”

More than half the respondents in each group, including 53% of administrators, said it will be difficult to implement social distancing and other health practices inside school buildings.

Sixty-one percent of teachers and 62% of administrators think schools should open with only remote learning options, not in-person classes. education reporter Trisha Powell Crain on earlier this week reported that 19 public school systems and one charter school have so far opted to go virtual only for the beginning of the school year.

In the survey, 45% of administrators, 43% of teachers and 42% of support professionals said they have an underlying health condition that puts them at greater risk for contracting COVID-19. About 40% of each group said they are also a caretaker for someone at greater risk for contracting COVID-19.

The majority of all three groups support mask mandates for staff and students. Gov. Kay Ivey issued such an order on Wednesday, extending the current mask order and extending it to most school students and staff.

At an Alabama State Board of Education meeting earlier this month, State Superintendent Eric Mackey  said the state department of education cannot mandate that students or staff wear face coverings. That can only be done by the governor, the state health officer or local ordinances or school board decisions.

A majority of survey respondents said their employer had been in contact with them about plans to reopen. And most respondents in all three groups said schools should reopen “only after public health experts determine it’s safe to return.”

The AEA represents about 85,000 members and is the state’s largest education group.

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