Survey: Most Minnesota teachers aren't ready to return to the classroom in fall

Most teachers in Minnesota do not feel safe returning to the classroom this fall, according to a survey from Education Minnesota, the union representing the largest number of teachers across the state.

Thursday, roughly 200 educators spent about an hour circling near the capitol in their cars, hoping to drive home the point they are concerned. They want the science surrounding COVID-19 to be the driving force behind decisions made around sending students back to class.

"They are working hard, they are not expendable," said Education Minnesota President Denise Specht. "Yet they feel that way. When they hear politicians rush to open school district when it is simply not ready. They are worried about their own health, their children’s health. Worry and anxiety are the words of the day about this."

Education Minnesota sent out a survey and received more than 20,000 responses. On the big question, on what mode of teaching teachers prefer this fall, the most common answer, 49 percent, was continue distance learning. While 46 percent said they were comfortable doing some in-person learning, either full-time or some type of hybrid.

The survey results also point out 60 percent of educators of color said they prefer distance learning to all other options, which is 11 percent higher than white educators.

"We all want safe learning places," added Brooklyn Park math teacher Sizi Goya. "I want my students, I want to teach my students, but I urge Governor Walz and all administrators who make decisions about how our students learn to consider this question through the lens of racial equity and justice."

Within the car caravan were school custodians who point out that districts are learning it takes about two days to disinfect all classrooms with current custodial staff. That’s about 30 minutes per person, per classroom.

"Even if the teachers were to disinfect their own classrooms, there would need to be 30 minutes between classes," explained custodian Steve Miltich. "Caring for the health of our community should not come at the cost of our health and the health of our families."

The president of Education Minnesota adds three main points to all this:

-Learning safely is the goal. In-person when schools can at a distance when must.
-Also that race matters.
-And thirdly, what public schools look like in September will likely not be what they look like on November 1.

She adds no one envies the governor’s decision.

Earlier this month, when the Department of Education asked Minnesota parents, 64 percent said they were ready to put their kids back in a classroom.

"Kids left at home, without teachers, without a school environment, without a stable atmosphere that school offers are just as unstable and unhealthy as the fear of this virus," said Lindsey Nelson.

Nelson leads a grassroots group of parents who are asking Governor Walz to re-open schools.

"I have a hard time even calling it distance learning because no learning is happening for many kids," she adds.

But the union believes the safety just isn’t there.

"They’re worried about their own health, their own children’s health and the health of the children at home with them," explained Specht.