Arkansas educators have expressed strong reservations about returning to in-person classroom instruction in the coming weeks with the continued spread of COVID-19.
In a survey conducted by the Arkansas Education Association (AEA), more than 6,000 educators were polled on their attitudes toward reopening, their concerns about health and more. Of the 6,148 individuals surveyed, 88.47 percent, or 5,432, were teachers and faculty, while 310 were education support professionals and 61 were school retirees. There were also 337 who listed “Other” when asked for their role.
Currently, Arkansas schools are set to return to in-person learning on the week of Aug. 24. Schools must start no later than Wednesday, Aug. 26. Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key have said that in-person, on-site instruction will be the first course of action but that a “blended learning environment” can be transitioned to in the event of COVID-19 infections.
The majority of educators polled in the survey are opposing a return to in-person learning in the fall. Of the 6,121 educators who responded to this question, 3,485 individuals voiced opposition to the planned return. The largest percentage of the opposition – 30.32 percent or 1,856 individuals – said they strongly opposed an in-person return, while 26.61 percent, or 1,629 percent, said they opposed it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, 26.35 percent of the respondents said they supported a return to in-person learning. There were 993 individuals, or 16.22 percent of the polled educators, who supported the return while 620 individuals, or 10.13 percent, who strongly support the return. There were also 1,023 individuals, or 16.71 percent, who were neutral.
Many educators are calling for a hybrid learning model, allowing students to learn in-person and remotely. This concept mirrors the “blended learning environment” that Hutchinson has discussed in recent weeks. More than 70 percent of the educators agreed that the schools should implement this model.
Most educators agreed that smaller class sizes will be critical in enforcing social distancing between student. Decreasing class sizes was the issue most educators agreed on with 93.43 percent of educators agreeing that this would be necessary. Of this total, 73.84 percent, or 4,534 individuals, strongly agreed that it was necessary while 19.59 percent, or 1,203 individuals, agreed that it was necessary. Only 3.08 percent of educators disagreed or strongly disagreed that smaller class sizes were necessary while 3.49 percent, or 214 individuals, were neutral.
Educators are also calling for the suspension of standardized testing until normal school operations can recommence. A total of 4,438 educators, or 72.32 percent, strongly agreed that testing would be suspended with 1,024, or 16.69 percent, agreeing. There were only 164 individuals who opposed and 59 individuals who strongly opposed this measure.
Health concerns are top of mind for educators, according to the survey. When asked if they are concerned about their health and contracting COVID-19, 60.01 percent or 3,684 individuals answered that they strongly agreed that they were concerned for their health. An addition 23.38 percent (1,435 individuals) answered that they agreed that they were concerned for their health. Only 4.98 percent and 2.90 percent, or 536 and 306 individuals, disagreed or strongly disagreed, that they were concerned for their health during the pandemic. There were 536 individuals, or 8.73 individuals, who were neutral.
When asked if the educators were concerned about family members contracting COVID-19, the number of educators who agreed that they were concerned increased over the personal health concerns. In total, 87.24 percent of educators said they were concerned about family members contracting the virus. There were 69.46 percent, or 4,266 individuals, who said they strongly agreed about being concerned for family members’ health and 17.78 percent, or 1,092 individuals, who agreed. Only 6.19 percent disagreed when asked if they were concerned for family members’ health and contracting COVID-19. Of these individuals, 3.96 percent (243 individuals) disagreed with the question asked and 2.23 percent (137 individuals) strongly disagreed.
“The message from the vast majority of responding Arkansas educators is clear: we must assure the health and safety of students and educators before our schools are ready to reopen,” AEA President Carol Fleming said in a statement. “We need supplies, support and clearly communicated safety protocols before our students, teachers and education support staff can consider returning to in-person learning. Arkansas’s educators know their students, parents and communities best, and they want to be a part in decision-making as we develop a safe, sustainable path forward.”
See the full survey here.