Survey of Ohio teachers shows majority want to start online

Two-thirds of teachers surveyed by the Ohio Federation of Teachers said they would be most comfortable starting the school year fully online during the coronavirus pandemic, the union said Monday.

According to the survey of 1,716 Ohio teachers, 66.2% favored online, 25.5% preferred a hybrid of online and in-person classes, and 8.3% favored a full five-day-a-week return to in-person classes.

“Our members across the state want nothing more than to get back into the classrooms and school buildings with our students, but the overwhelming majority are not confident that their school districts can reopen safely,” said OFT President Melissa Cropper. “We know that what happens in our schools does not stay in our schools, and that a premature and unsafe reopening can have drastic effects on the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”

Teachers’ top concerns (66-73% agreeing) were the possibility that a return to in-person school would lead to greater spread of COVID-19 in their communities, plus the lack of knowledge about any long-term effects from the disease. Lower on the list, at 35-48% of respondents, were concerns from teachers who were at high medical risk themselves, or had someone in their household who is at high risk.

Lisa Batten, president of the New Lebanon schools teachers union, said opinions vary in her district, as many agree with the OFT survey majority, while others, including many younger teachers who don’t have elderly parents to worry about, would rather be face to face.

The OFT survey showed teachers worry that students in online classes will struggle with social connections and emotional issues. There are also worries about online academic work, especially for low-income students and those with less support at home.

“I would say every teacher will tell you that. Online (school) just didn’t do the job as well as it could have,” Batten said. “I had kids who said, ‘Oh, I wish I was in school.’ And I get that. But which is worse … what if we lose a child or lose a teacher?”

New Lebanon schools are on track to start the year with a hybrid setup, where students would be divided into two groups, with each group physically in school two days per week and learning online the other days. Teachers would be in school full time instructing both groups of students.

That’s the approach Centerville schools were headed for until last week, when they switched to fully online classes for at least their first quarter.

Centerville teachers union President Brian Cayot said unfortunately the choices facing schools are “bad and worse.”

“But safety has always been the No. 1 priority in our concern for our teachers and students,” Cayot said. “Making sure that there are safe working conditions, following the CDC guidelines and implementing them effectively has been at the top of our association’s concerns.”

Among other teacher survey responses, social distancing was a major concern. Only 17-18% were confident their school would be able to create proper space for social distancing in the classroom or at lunch, while 57-58% disagreed. And only 9% were confident in social distancing on school buses, with 65% disagreeing.

President Donald Trump has called for schools to reopen in-person this fall, suggesting that the CDC’s guidelines are expensive and impractical. Cropper disagreed with the president’s stance.

“It’s easy to make demands and threats, but it’s a lot harder to do the careful planning to ensure a safe reopening for our students and communities,” she said. “We’re encouraged by the many superintendents and school administrators who are listening to our members’ concerns and refining their plans as more information becomes available.”

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