Classroom 2018

A Desoto County classroom on the first day of school in August 2018.

A majority of Mississippi educators are opposed to reopening schools in the coming weeks, according to a survey of nearly 2,400 teachers, administrators, teacher assistants, counselors and other school employees.

Over 200 DeSoto County educators responded to the survey, which the Mississippi Association of Educators (MAE) released today. The results reported that 41.6% of respondents across the state want a hybrid learning model for the reopening of schools and 40.2% are in favor of virtual learning only as school resumes. Far fewer respondents — 18.2% — wanted to reopen schools with traditional, in-person classes.

Honestly I’m scared,” said one DeSoto County teacher in the anonymous survey, according to MAE. “There has been an uptick in cases and people aren’t wearing [masks]. My dad is going through chemo and I have asthma and other underlying conditions. Also there needs to be special considerations for when a teacher has to miss 14 days of school.”

Most of the respondents were teachers, though some administrators and other school employees also weighed in.

We should start after Labor Day so that we can have at least a month to work with teachers to get a plan together for the year,” one school-level administrator said in the survey.

Just under half of educators surveyed said that their school or district had offered training for online teaching during the summer.

Far fewer educators — 8.1% — said they had been offered training during the summer to address the effects of the pandemic on students’ social and emotional health.

One teacher noted in the survey that they believed reopening was not actually in the best interest of the students.

“Yes, students learn best when in a classroom, but the number of hoops we are going to have to jump through every class and every period to make it where we can make school remotely safe is asking way too much of us as educators and the students attending our class,” the DeSoto County teacher said in the survey. “When we are having to think as much about social distance, sanitizing surfaces, and monitoring symptoms of our students as much as we do our actual teaching, it’s a complete no-win situation.”

Respondents said they would be interested in various forms of emotional and social support for their students, including protocols for virtual check-ins with students, access to virtual and face-to-face grief counselors or age-appropriate mental health literature.

Some educators also noted other concerns for virtual or hybrid reopenings, including internet access and technology for students. Others said that schools needed to focus on masks, face shields and CDC-compliant furniture for in-person classes.

Some educators don’t believe any precautions could make in-person classes a good idea.

“This is a huge mistake,” another DeSoto County teacher said in the survey. “Considerations are not being made for the teachers. I do not feel safe returning as I am high risk, but I have no other choice.”

Other teachers, though, are ready to get back to in-person classes. Carolyn Rooke, an early childhood education teacher at Horn Lake High School, said that she thinks, with many precautions, schools can reopen safely.

Rooke has a Facebook page for teachers who live or work in DeSoto County with about 1500 members, and she said most teachers are ready to get back to school, aside from a few who are concerned about specific health vulnerabilities of people in their households.

“It seems like the general consensus is: we want to go back,” she said.

Still, she said that she could see the county’s plans changing before students are scheduled to return, including distance learning or classes being delayed until September. The current plan for DeSoto County Schools is for students to return on Aug.10.

“Educators are fearful for our health and the health of our students,” Erica Jones, president of MAE, said in a statement released with the survey. “We are worried about our families and our students’ families. With the number of COVID cases growing daily, the absence of leadership from our state’s top education officials has been disheartening to say the least.”

Gov. Tate Reeves said that the state was reviewing plans from school districts to reopen and would make decisions for schools across the state late this week or early next week. He said that Mississippians have long believed in local control of public education but added that some districts still had work to do to submit a safe plan.

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