Districts’ approaches to accommodating high-risk educators a mixed bag

Dive Brief:

  • As some school districts nationwide move to reopen buildings for face-to-face learning, accommodations for educators and staff at high risk of the worst complications of COVID-19 vary. Educators in Memphis, for example, have the choice between teaching remotely or from the classroom, but support staff in Detroit are asking administrators to give them that choice as well, Chalkbeat reports.
  • In Memphis, many teachers have submitted telework plans, but administrative and substitute staff are expected to remain in schools. At Highland Oaks Middle School, all 40 teachers are working from the building and four teachers are bringing their children to school with them, while at East High, only about 30-40% of teachers are working out of the building.
  • Two unions representing Detroit school district support staff are demanding they, too, have the option to work remotely like the teachers do. There, 80% of the district’s students will start class online and there will be learning centers open inside the schools were students can complete homework.

Dive Insight:

The decision to return to work is a challenging one for many teachers. Those over 65 make up 18% of the educator workforce in the U.S., while 27% of principals are over the age of 65. Earlier this year, the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank, recommended schools offer early retirement incentives or create online teaching roles for educators and principals who need to stay home due to underlying health concerns as the coronavirus pandemic persists.

There is also concern that teachers and principals will choose to retire early regardless of incentives, adding to shortages that existed prior to the onset of the pandemic. In Oklahoma, 17% of the teacher population is eligible to retire. According to a USA Today/Ipsos poll conducted in late May, about 20% of teachers said they will likely not return to schools in the fall. Another survey found 10% of teachers are more likely to leave the profession now than they were before the pandemic.

While about half of the nation’s students will attend school remotely this fall, many teachers must still transmit lessons from the classroom unless they received prior approval.

The issue is becoming contentious in some districts, such as Palm Beach County School District, where district leaders received a sharp rebuke from the county school board after it was revealed they didn’t set up a process for employees to apply to work from home. Previously, administrators said they would create a policy to allow teachers to request remote work if they were over 65 or had medical conditions that put them at higher risk from COVID-19.

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