Survey: Majority of educators concerned about returning to in-person learning

Coronavirus

EAST LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Education Association has released the results of a statewide survey of more than 4,700 educators on COVID-19’s impact on public education.

The association talked about the statewide results during a Tuesday news conference. News 8 is working to obtain findings on a more regional approach to determine takeaways for West Michigan districts.

MEA said the survey found 84% of participants are concerned about a full return to in-person learning as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the state. Out of those, 72% were concerned about their safety, 71% were worried about students’ safety and 66% were anxious for their colleagues’ safety.

“The health and safety of our public school students, educators and families has never been more important as we continue to see COVID-19 cases skyrocket across the state,” MEA President Paula Herbart said. “This survey shows us Michigan’s public school employees are concerned about the safety of reopening for full in-person learning, with their personal safety and that of their students and colleagues as their top priorities.”

The survey found 91% of those who have returned to some form of in-person learning says employees are wearing masks and 78% said students are wearing face coverings. However, only 18% said the students are following social distancing guidelines.

Nearly three-fourths of educators said they were either full virtual learning or in a hybrid model at the time.

More than two-thirds of respondents said it’s unlikely their district to be ready for in-person learning in January, which some school districts are planning. Forty-seven percent of educators said their concerns had not been addressed in their school district’s reopening plan.

“With COVID-19 cases on the rise it has never been more important for our front-line educators to be involved in any decisions about a safe return to school,” Herbart said. “We will bring the findings of our survey to policymakers and decision-makers, so they understand what front-line educators are feeling and doing regarding this pandemic.”

As the state’s infection rates keep climbing, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Sunday announced several new restrictions starting Wednesday and lasting three weeks. Among the new rules is a requirement for high schools and colleges to shift to remote learning.

“We just feel like it doesn’t go far enough,” Herbart said. “We believe for these three weeks we should be pausing elementary, K-8 schooling as well.”

West Michigan superintendents previously told News 8 that designated outbreaks aren’t necessarily connected to in-school transmission. Their cases are students or staff contracting the virus out in the community, coming into school and then prompting quarantines within the building through contact tracing.

Another assertion Herbart made is that some districts are requiring educators report to their classroom to teach remotely, creating an avoidable risk for them. 

News 8 spoke with some districts in the area that have previously given the option to come to the building. Many cited new Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidance that changes that. 

Sean Egan, COVID-19 Workplace Safety Director, sent the following info:

A school district is an employer and must follow the MIOSHA emergency rules that all employers are required to follow.

Employers are required to create a policy prohibiting in-person work for employees to the extent that their work activities can feasibly be completed remotely. While there may be circumstances in which a district has in-person activity while students are engaged in remote learning, employers are obligated to demonstrate the infeasibility of remote work.

Employers should include in the remote work determination information which covers at least:

Which positions/classifications report for in-person work and why they must be physically present in the workplace;

Reasons that this work cannot be performed remotely. This must include enough specificity to show this analysis has been performed. 

This written policy may be part of the employer’s COVID-19 preparedness and response plan. It does not have to be a stand-alone document. 

Employers and employees with questions regarding workplace safety and health may contact MIOSHA using the hotline at 855.SAFE.C19 (855.723.3219). To report health and safety concerns in the workplace, go to Michigan.gov/MIOSHAcomplaint.

state list updated Monday shows 250 outbreaks associated with schools — most of them at high schools, colleges or universities. Rockford Public Schools’ high school and freshman center continue to have the largest outbreak of K-12 school in the state, with 40 students and staff members infected.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, health officials want you to get tested. You can find a testing site near you at Michigan.gov/coronavirustest.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Know something newsworthy? Report It!