The Arkansas Education Association’s survey of members finds that a supermajority of respondents are concerned about reopening schools this fall in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The survey, released Wednesday, fielded more than 6,100 responses from members with more than 88% being from teachers. Of those teachers, roughly 44% are from the elementary level, 20% teach middle school, 27% cover high school grades, and 9% were classified as other.
About 58% of those surveyed said they are working more since in-person school closed in March 2020, while 14% said they were working less and 27% were working about the same. When asked if they were worried about contracting COVID-19, 83% said they were concerned.
More than 84% said they were concerned regarding the health risks for returning to in-person school this fall, while 15% were unconcerned.
Students and family members were of higher concern to the educators surveyed than their own health. Just under 90% said they were concerned about health risks to students when or if schools reopen, while only 8% were unconcerned. Nearly 88% were concerned for family members this fall, and about 10% were not concerned.
Another finding from the survey suggested that it may be impossible to socially distance if schools reopen. Nearly 97% said it would be difficult to socially distance and account for other practices in public schools, while just 2% said it would not be difficult.
A final finding from the survey asked educators about leaving the profession or retiring early.
Q: Has COVID-19 made you think about leaving the public education profession or retiring earlier than planned?
36.58% – No
3.31% – Yes, leaving the profession
30.13% – Yes, considering leaving the profession
3.56% – Yes, retiring earlier than planned
10.5% – Yes, considering retiring earlier than planned
0.43% – Retiring as planned this year
15.49% – Unsure
When asked about the AEA survey, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he had not seen it but understands the concerns.
“I think it’s natural that whenever people look at the future and there is any uncertainty, they get nervous about it. So I think it’s a natural reaction that there is a lot of questions that parents have, a lot of questions that teachers have, and, you know, I encourage them to follow closely what the state plan that has been outlined. I think it gives confidence. There is a level of flexibility with the local districts,” he said.
The governor also said state and local education officials are continuing to work on how to respond to positive COVID-19 tests among students and staff.
“A lot of these details are still being worked out because we still have about 30 days before the beginning of school,” Hutchinson said.