LOXLEY – A statewide survey of teachers and other education workers found that almost two thirds are very uncomfortable returning to school buildings for the start of the academic year.
The survey was conducted by the Alabama Education Association and included responses from more than 40,000 members. The poll did not break down responses by county or school system, but Baldwin County AEA members have expressed concerns similar to those presented in the statewide survey, Jesse McDaniel, AEA representative, said.
The state survey found that 65 percent of members are very uncomfortable returning to school this year. About 62 percent said reopening schools is unsafe for students, teachers and staff and should not be considered at this time.
McDaniel said that with students returning to class on Aug. 12, many employees have called AEA about their fears.
“The beginning of school is always hectic, but when you add on top of that the COVID-19 situation, it’s just been gangbusters,” McDaniel said. Lots of phone calls from employees who are mostly concerned for their health or the health of family members and they want to go back to work, of course, but they don’t want to do it at the expense of their health or that of their loved ones.”
McDaniel said some local calls are from members with health conditions.
“I will also qualify that by saying that I have a lot anecdotal evidence and we’re hearing disproportionately from those with health issues, because our job here is to work with everyone and kind of get them through the process of requesting an accommodation or a leave of absence or whatever the case may be,” he said.
McDaniel said younger teachers and those in good health have not expressed as many concerns and that everyone would like to get back into the schools as soon as conditions are safe.
“It’s a mixed bag,” he said. “We try to acknowledge the fear that is out there, because it’s very real. There’s a lot of fear. I’ve heard that word over and over. We’re just trying to help people know what they should be doing and how to do it as safely as possible.”
Employees don’t know what’s going to happen when school resumes and are worried about the possible consequences of bringing so many people into close proximity in a county where COVID-19 is spreading, he said.
“Your schools are going to be the single largest gathering place of all these hundreds and thousands of bodies coming together in very close proximity in the classrooms, in the school buses and I’m not sure that we have really seen scenarios like that play out over the spring,” McDaniel said. “This is really the first time that we’re having to confront this head-on and we’ve only got one shot to get this right.”
AEA representatives have been working with Baldwin County school administrators about employees’ concerns. McDaniel said that after members told him they worried that mask requirements would not be enforced, Eddie Tyler, superintendent of education, told him that face coverings will be required for everyone in school buildings.
“He said that if you don’t comply with the rules it would be treated like an infraction where you’re non-compliant,” McDaniel said. “So that was important to us. The folks we’re hearing from are coming into the building already scared, but they also can’t live without their paycheck, so they have to come to work, because they’ve got to support their family but at the same time, there are a lot of folks concerned for health reasons that not everybody’s going to be participating in the process.”
The state survey also found that 36 percent of the respondents are considering retirement or leaving education out of fear of the coronavirus. McDaniel said he has heard from many employees who are considering retiring or quitting, but many can’t afford to leave their jobs.
“Employees have a hard time taking such a drastic cut in their income,” he said. “If you’re a cafeteria worker with 25 years, which is a long time, you’re only going to be able expect half of your salary and that’s before deductions, such as insurance. Retirement is something a lot of people are looking into, but in a lot of cases that’s not financially feasible for some.”