ST PAUL, Minn. — A survey conducted by Education Minnesota finds continued distance learning is the preferred method of teaching for many educators heading into the new school year, amid ongoing concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
Education Minnesota is the union representing more than 70,000 educators in the state.
The survey, conducted from July 16-20, found 49% of educators said they preferred all distance learning for fall, while 29% said they preferred a hybrid of distance learning and in-person instruction, and 17% said they preferred to only be in the classroom.
In the survey, many of those who prefer distance learning expressed concerns about the heath of the school community and their own families, with 8,200 respondents saying they were in a high-risk category for COVID-19, and more than 9,500 others saying they are a primary caretaker for someone who is high risk.
Among those who prefer in-person learning, 66% said concern for "at risk" students was their driving factor, even if it puts their own health at risk. Around 25% cited the need to reopen the economy as a reason to return to classroom instruction.
Education Minnesota said about 24% of its membership (more than 20,000 members) responded to the survey, representing similar racial demographics as the union as a whole.
Read the full survey report here.
The survey found that educators who identify as people of color had a stronger preference for distance learning, citing disproportionate risks for COVID-19 among communities of color.
"As a math teacher, numbers matter to me. Sixty percent of educators of color say they prefer distance learning to all other options," said Sizi Goya, a teacher in Brooklyn Center, during a rally held by Education Minnesota Thursday. "If you’re a person of color in Minnesota, the risks of returning to school this fall are much different than for most white persons."
Nearly all of the educators surveyed agreed on the importance of safety protocols inside schools, with most saying that daily deep cleanings and other precautions were either very important or somewhat important. Many educators also cited the importance of PPE and training for students and staff, as well as mental health support for students and staff.
"No matter what we look like or where we come from, Education Minnesota believes most educators and parents want to get back to in-person education, but only if the whole school community can learn, teach and work in safety during this pandemic," Education Minnesota officials said in the survey report.
During Education Minnesota's rally Thursday, at which they released the findings of the report, President Denise Specht spoke of all the challenges districts face as they prepare for the possibility of in-person learning this fall.
"I heard from one school district that said if they were working in a hybrid situation, they would need 70 extra school buses just for the district to safely transport children," she said. "So, there are no easy answers here."
However, the results of the Education Minnesota survey had notable differences from the Minnesota PK-12 Distance Learning Survey, also released this week, conducted by the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development. That survey found nearly 7,800 teachers reported they "worried a great deal" about continuing distance learning in the fall, versus nearly 5,800 worried about going back to school and getting sick.
The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) has said it plans to release its guidance for fall instruction next week. In a social media post on Thursday afternoon, MDE said Gov. Walz would outline the state's official strategy on July 30.