Close to a third of Michigan teachers might leave their job due to coronavirus, survey finds

click to enlarge A view of a classroom at the former Old Detroit Holy Redeemer school. - Motown31, Wikimedia Creative Commons
Motown31, Wikimedia Creative Commons
A view of a classroom at the former Old Detroit Holy Redeemer school.

It is unclear as to what Michigan's public school will look like come fall, with more than 1.5 million students unsure if they will be able to safely return to the classrooms they've largely abandoned since March, when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed schools across the state for the remainder of the academic school year due to the coronavirus.

But there may be more roadblocks on the horizon for Michigan's education system, as nearly one-third of the state's educators are considering leaving teaching ahead of the 2020/21 school year due to concerns stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

A survey led by the largest teachers union in the state, the Michigan Education Association, found that of the 15,000 K-12 educators surveyed, 24% are considering leaving the profession, with 7% already on their way out, Bridge reports. Some teachers, 32% of them, are considering retiring early, with 8% saying they will.

The survey, which was conducted in May and released Thursday, also found that close to 90% of those surveyed expressed health-risk related concerns when it comes to the reopening of schools. Only half of the teachers believe they can handle the “social and emotional needs” of their students when they return to class.

“The health and safety of our students, teachers, support staff, and families have never been more important during the COVID-19 pandemic,” MEA president Paula Herbart said on Thursday.

“This survey shows us health and safety are top of mind for Michigan’s hard-working, dedicated public educators. They know their students, parents, and communities best, and want to be part of decision-making in safely reopening our school buildings. Just like nurses, doctors and other public health experts have been relied on during this crisis, we will urge our lawmakers to heed the findings of this survey as we chart a path back to school.”

There were other concerns, too, with reopening, as 62% think schools lack staff and resources for schools' essential services, like cafeteria, janitorial, and busing services. An overwhelming 91% of teachers believe smaller class sizes are necessary to enforce social distancing, which might be difficult to do if the school system faces a teacher shortage on top of a strained system. Seventy-five percent are in favor of conducting regular temperature checks of both staff and students and 74% believe the schools should be responsible for supplying masks, hand sanitizer, and other protective gear for its faculty.

This week, Whitmer appointed representatives to the COVID-19 Return to Learn Advisory Council, which includes 25 health care and education leaders who will work alongside teachers and parents to propose reopening strategy to Whitmer's COVID-19 Task Force on Education.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District is already in the planning phase for in-person summer school instruction and is exploring the implementation of strict health and safety protocol so that students and educators can meet on campus.

A statement posted to the DPSCD website addresses the potential operational procedures for summer school, and details rigorous safety protocols, including testing employees for COVID-19, daily temperature checks, smaller class sizes, providing access to protective gear and hand sanitizer, as well as the designation of an “isolation area” for those who feel sick.

On Friday, Whitmer announced that the U.P. and northern Michigan would be advancing to phase 5 of her 6 phase MI Safe Start reopening plan, with the hope that she will approve the rest of the state for phase 5 by July 4. Under phase 5, or the “containing” phase, K-12 and higher education classes can resume for in-person instruction.

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