Survey: Michigan educators feel unsafe returning to school

Anna Liz Nichols
Associated Press/Report for America

Lansing — The majority of educators in Michigan have safety concerns and don't believe they'll be able to return to in-person learning in January, according to a study from the state teachers' union.

The survey by the Michigan Education Association found 74% of the responding educators prefer some level of virtual learning now. More than 47,000 educators responded to the survey this month. The union has about 120,000 members. Of those responding, 84% reported safety concerns over a return to full in-person learning and 68% reported that they weren't confident that schools will be able to return to in-person instruction in January.

But 41% of educators reported that remote learning has been somewhat ineffective or not effective at all.

Teachers want to be back in school because working alongside students is best, MEA President Paula Herbart said Tuesday in a media conference. However, when it comes to decisions being made in the state, the expertise of educators needs to be utilized more.

“Many don’t feel like they’ve been a part of the decision-making process and they want that to change,” Herbart said. “Just like we’ve listened to nurses and doctors and other health professional experts throughout this pandemic, we must heed the input of our education experts, Michigan public school employees.”

Almost half of those who responded to the survey, 47%, said they felt their concerns were not addressed in their school district’s plans for reopening or virtual learning.

Due to a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a set of restrictions Sunday that includes temporarily halting in-person learning for high schools and colleges. Herbart said the action was a great start, but the union believes elementary schools should be paused as well and greater planning should start in the state on how all students can get back to school.

“If our communities had behaved in such a way where we were masking up, if our legislatures had made a mask mandate, if we had said to everyone that we take health and safety as our number one priority, we could be back in school right now," Herbart said.

Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.