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Survey shows teachers are worried about COVID safety, while union leader pushes state to pause K-8 in-person classes

An empty classroom at Goldrick Elementary School, Dec. 7, 2017.
A survey of Michigan educators found a significant number of them have serious concerns about returning to school.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The head of the state’s largest teachers union says Michigan should add K-8 classes to its new directive that requires high schools to halt in-person learning for three weeks because of rising COVID-19 cases in communities across the state.

“If we can all stay home and stay safe, we know the numbers will come down,” Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association, said Tuesday morning during a media call held to announce the results of a teacher survey.

On Sunday, state officials issued new COVID-19 policies that place more restrictions on restaurants, gyms, casinos, and indoor gatherings. Requiring high schools to transition to virtual learning was included. The policies go into effect Wednesday.

The new rules come amidst a surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. As of Monday afternoon, the state had 264,576 positive cases since the state recorded its first case in March. That number includes 12,763 reported Sunday and Monday. There have been 8,049 deaths.

On Sunday, state officials said K-8 schools can remain open as long as they have strong safety measures in place, including mask requirements.

“Michigan has seen fewer outbreaks associated with elementary and middle schools, and younger children are most in need of in-person instruction,” officials with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.

Results of the MEA survey of 4,740 teachers, support staff, and other school employees highlight deep concerns among educators. More than 80% said they have concerns about COVID-19 safety, and of those whose schools are planning a January return to in-person classes, nearly 70% said it won’t be safe to do so.

Still, a large number of those who responded said virtual learning isn’t effective.

Results of the poll, which was completed Nov. 5-11, were released Tuesday morning by the Michigan Education Association. More than 4,700 educators who are members of the teachers union responded. The union has about 120,000 members.

The survey was conducted by GBAO Strategies, based in Washington, D.C.

Nearly half of the union members who were surveyed said their concerns about COVID-19 have not been addressed. Herbart said that needs to change.

“With cases of COVID-19 on the rise … it has never been more important for our frontline educators to be involved in any decisions about a safe return to school,” she said.

Herbart also took issue with the 37% of teachers who said that even though their districts were fully online, they are required to report to their schools rather than teach from home.

“This is completely unnecessary … and creates unnecessary risk,” Herbart said.

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