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Survey: Michigan teachers flag health risks as chief concern for school fall re-opening

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Health and safety risks are in the forefront of Michigan teachers' thoughts as they consider what public education might look like this fall with the uncertainties of COVID-19.

That's according to a Michigan Education Association surveyof its 120,000 members, conducted May 14-22 and released Thursday.

87% of the 15,399 educators who answered the survey said they were concerned about health risks to students, students' families, and fellow employees as they consider potential plans for re-opening public schools in the fall.

"They want to make sure that there are set and enforceable safeguards for public schools," said Paula Herbart, president of the MEA.

Among other key findings:

About 90% think smaller class sizes will be necessary to enforce social distancing.

About three-quarters want schools to take the temperatures of students and staff as they enter school buildings and to carefully track illnesses.

About three-quarters want schools to provide and require masks and other personal protective equipment for employees. That compares to 68.3% who want the same for students.

About three-in-five think current staffing and resources are insufficient for cleaning, food service, and bus runs.

"Rushing back just to be normal isn't the right thing to do," said Herbart. "We want to do it in a mindful way that keeps people safe and assures them an opportunity to learn in the best way possible."

The survey revealed strong views on standardized testing and calls to re-open schools in the summer. 

90% said that standardized testing should be suspended until normal school operations resume, and that requirements based on standardized test results, such as third grade reading retention, should also be suspended.

More than four-in-five opposed re-starting in-person school during the summer. The reasons given include that parents won't feel safe sending their children back in the summer and that there isn't enough money to support widespread school in the summer.

A startling finding was that COVID-19 could be driving more turnover among public school educators.

Almost one-quarter of the respondents said they were considering leaving public education or retiring earlier than planned because of COVID-19. An additional 7% said they'd already made the decision to do so.

"That's huge on top of an already strained system and pipeline of potential educators," said Herbart.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointed Herbart this week to the COVID-19 Return to School Advisory Council.

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Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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