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AEA survey: 68 percent of Alabama teachers ‘very uncomfortable’ returning to school

Seventy percent of recently surveyed Alabama educators said remote learning should be the only option when the school year begins.

An Alabama Education Association survey conducted July 13-15 received 40,997 responses from teachers, administrators and support professionals. The largest group of respondents work in elementary schools, but middle and high schools and higher education were also represented.

The survey results, which are not scientific, were released Tuesday. They showed that 68 percent of teachers are “very uncomfortable” returning to school in the fall if conditions then are like they are now.

Asked if COVID-19 has made them think about retiring earlier than expected or leaving the education profession, 43 percent of administrators, 35 percent of teachers and 31 percent of support professionals said yes.

Earlier this month, Alabama Daily News reported that some school leaders are concerned about potential COVID-19-related staff shortages if personnel take leave because of safety concerns or if they are exposed to or contract the virus.

More than half the respondents in each group, including 53 percent of administrators, said it will be difficult to implement social distancing and other health practices inside school buildings.

Sixty-one percent of teachers and 62 percent of administrators think schools should open with only remote learning options, not in-person classes. on Monday reported that 19 public school systems and one charter school have so far opted to go virtual-only for the beginning of the school year.

In the survey, 45 percent of administrators, 43 percent of teachers and 42 percent of support professionals said they have an underlying health condition that puts them at greater risk for contracting COVID-19. About 40 percent of each group said they are also a caretaker for someone at greater risk for contracting COVID-19.

The majority of all three groups support mask mandates for staff and students. Gov. Kay Ivey issued such an order on Wednesday, extending the current mask order and expanding it to most school students and staff.

At an Alabama State Board of Education meeting earlier this month, State Superintendent Eric Mackey said the state Department of Education cannot mandate that students or staff wear face coverings. That can only be done by the governor, the state health officer or local ordinances or school board decisions.

A majority of survey respondents said their employer had been in contact with them about plans to reopen. And most respondents in all three groups said schools should reopen “only after public health experts determine it’s safe to return.”

The AEA represents about 85,000 members and is the state’s largest education group.