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Nearly a third of Michigan educators mull quitting because of coronavirus

About 7 percent of Michigan educators are leaving the profession because of concerns over coronavirus and another 24 percent are considering walking out the door, according to a survey of more than 15,000 Michigan K-12 educators released Thursday.

The survey, conducted May 15-22 by the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union, revealed broad concern about reopening Michigan’s schools in September. 

If schools do open, educators support checking the temperatures of staff and students entering school buildings, and wearing masks.

“Our public educators want public health experts to say what reopening our schools should look like,” said MEA President Paula Herbart.

There are about 100,000 public school teachers in the state. About eight in 10 of survey respondents are K-12 teachers, with the remainder being education support staff. About 3 percent of respondents were college faculty.

The departure of thousands of teachers who quit because of health concerns related to COVID-19 or retire earlier than they intended would hobble Michigan schools, many of which already struggle with teacher shortages that force them to turn to uncertified long-term substitute teachers to lead classrooms.

The survey found 1.2 percent of educators were retiring this year as planned -- a figure MEA communications director Doug Pratt said is typical. 

What is worrying in the survey, Pratt said, was 4.8 percent who said they are now going to retire early because of coronavirus, as well as 2.2 percent who said they are leaving short of retirement because of health concerns connected to the pandemic. Another 23 percent are considering leaving.

“If even a fraction of those who are considering leaving follow through, that’s thousands of teachers,” Pratt said. That will exacerbate the problem ]of teacher shortage in some districts.]”

The survey findings are similar to a national survey that found one in five teachers were considering quitting as a result of the pandemic.

Michigan’s public and private K-12 schools have been shuttered since mid-March under an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as the state tried to stem the spread of the potentially deadly virus. Education has continued for homebound students, primarily through online lessons or printed packets of lessons.

Whitmer created an advisory council consisting of teachers, administrators, students, parents and health officials to map out a plan for K-12 education until a vaccine is developed. The results of the survey will be shared with the advisory council, MEA’s Herbart said.

There is no date set for the release of those recommendations.

Schools are under pressure to find ways to bring students back to classrooms in the fall, so parents can return to work.

In the survey, more than eight in 10 educators said they worry about the health risks to their families if they return to in-person teaching in the fall. Nine in 10 fear for the health of fellow teachers, administrators and support staff. Eighty-six percent had the same health fears about their students who are in an age group that generally is less impacted by COVID-19.

Only 26 percent of educators felt school could return by September to in-person learning “that is close to the same as prior to the closures in March. 

Nearly a third, 30 percent, said learning won’t return to normal until a vaccine is developed.

“Our members anticipate dealing with a new normal for a long time going forward,” Pratt said.

Among the other survey findings:

  • 93 percent said class sizes will need to be smaller to allow for social distancing. How small? “That depends on the square footage [of classrooms],” Herbart said.

  • Even with smaller class sizes, 80 percent of elementary teachers said social distancing will be “very difficult” for their grade level; 68 percent of middle school teachers and 62 percent of high school teachers said social distancing will be very difficult.

  • 77 percent said schools will need to implement staggered schedules so not all students are in school, or arriving and departing school, at the same time. That could mean an extended day for teachers (something that would have to be renegotiated in teacher contracts), or teachers could alternate schedules - some working early shifts and some working late shifts, said Herbart.

  • 74 percent said temperatures of staff and students should be checked daily as they enter school buildings.

  • 74 percent said staff should wear face masks; 67 percent said students should wear masks, too.

  • 82 percent opposed mandatory summer school aimed at helping students catch up on learning losses that occurred during more than two months of remote learning. Educators said they believed parents would not feel safe sending their children to school this summer, and that there was a “lack of community support” for mandatory summer school.

  • Almost nine in 10 said standardized tests should be scuttled until normal school operations can return.

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