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Survey: A quarter of Michigan educators may leave their jobs over COVID-19 concerns. Some are already on their way out.

Many Michigan teachers expressed health and safety concerns once in-person classes resume.
Koby Levin

Nearly a quarter of Michigan’s educators say they’re considering leaving the profession because of health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to survey results released Thursday.

In the survey, conducted by the Michigan Education Association, 23.7% of the educators said they are considering leaving their jobs. Another 7% said they have already decided to leave. A small percentage — 1.2% — said they are retiring as planned before COVID.

If large numbers of educators, particularly teachers, opt not to return to school when classes resume in the fall, it would mean a significant challenge for administrators during a time when social distancing measures could require more teachers, not fewer.

The responses were among the highlights of the online survey conducted in May by the state’s largest teacher’s union, with about 120,000 members. More than 15,000 teachers, support staff, higher education faculty and staff, and other public educators who are MEA members responded to the online survey.

Nearly 90% of the educators said they’re concerned about the health risks to students, their families, and fellow employees in reopening schools.

“Our teachers, support staff, and other public school employees know their students and community best. They must be a part of the decisions that are made at the state and local levels in order to safely reopen our school,” said Paula Herbart, the union’s president, during a press conference Thursday.

Michigan school districts are grappling with developing plans to reopen in the fall that take the potential health risks into account. On Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the names of the people who will serve on a 26-member advisory panel that will develop safety guidelines for reopening school buildings. Herbart is a member of this panel.

Detroit school district officials are set to release their reopening plan this week. Already, a letter on summer school posted to the district’s web site says that among the precautions that could be taken are daily temperature checks, COVID testing, and adding hand sanitizer stations.

Alaina Larsen, a fourth-grade teacher at Schulze Academy in Detroit, agreed with the concerns shared by her peers across the state. But she’s most concerned about the impact the coronavirus pandemic, and now the nationwide protests against police brutality, may have on her students’ minds.

“Our country has been in turmoil. They are looking around and seeing things they do not understand,” she said. “We need to find a way to talk to them and address the concerns they have.”

Only 48% of survey respondents said they felt equipped to handle students’ social and emotional needs when classes resume.

You can read the full survey below:

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