• By Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Teachers concerned about returning to in-person instruction

A recent survey of 199 teachers and support staff in Woodford County Public Schools showed 61.86 percent wanted to do a virtual academy with 38.14 percent wanting to return to traditional in-person instruction, according to a questionnaire distributed by members of the Kentucky Education Association (KEA). David Graves, president of the Woodford County Education Association, described some responses explaining why they did not want to return to in-person instruction as “pretty heart-wrenching.” Graves said one teacher was concerned about bringing the coronavirus home to an elderly parent with cancer. Others had concerns about the availability of substitute teachers and whether they will have access to the personal protective equipment they need, he said. Concerns ranged from kindergartners not being required to wear masks to families not following the rules, Graves said. He said he’s had to recharge his phone three or four times a day because of the number of calls he’s been receiving from teachers, some who were crying. “It’s been bad. They’re scared,” said Graves. He said friends are telling him to take the virtual option because of his own health issues related to diabetes, but he feels like he needs to remain in-person at Woodford County High School so he can listen to the concerns of other teachers. At Monday’s school board meeting, schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins and board members addressed concerns in the survey. “I do understand and appreciate the anxiety being experienced now. This is a situation we have never encountered before,” said Hawkins. “As we continue to prepare for the new year, we will focus on these concerns and work to ensure they are addressed in the best way possible.” He said teachers and staff can share any concern with their building principal, who will involve district staff to address the issue. The survey showed 43.55 percent of the teachers and staff answering the questionnaire (81) would retire because of concerns related to COVID-19 if they were eligible to do so. Asked if they would consider leaving Woodford County schools due to concerns over COVID-19 and its impact on teaching environment and/or personal (family) health, 30.93 percent (60 employees) responded “yes,” according to the survey. “One thing I do know,” said Graves, who teaches science, “is every germ that is in this community comes to our schools. And it’s really not a matter of if it will come to our schools, but a matter of when it will come to our schools.” He credited school board members, especially Dani Bradley and Allison Richardson, for taking the teachers’ concerns seriously. He said teachers didn’t sign up for the unknowns they may face in a school environment changed by COVID-19. “In the ideal situation, yes, we’d want to be there,” Graves said. “In-person teaching is the best way to be teaching, obviously.” The board recently approved a dual system that allows parents to choose traditional in-person instruction or a virtual academy for their children. On Monday, Hawkins acknowledged “the impact of the virus may cause us to change our re-entry plan, and I’m asking parents to prepare for such a change.” Board member Ambrose Wilson IV said he would not have voted in favor of a dual re-entry plan July 14 if he’d known about the concerns related to in-person instruction. “Beyond a shadow of a doubt,” he said, “the safest thing for our children, our employees and our community is to begin the (school year) virtually.” Bradley shared his concerns, and those of employees in the district. “We have heard – all of us I’m sure – from staff members who are just completely scared,” she said. Citing the many uncertainties about the coronavirus, she said, “I think it’s a risk to ask people to come back when we don’t know more, and we’re asking someone to expand their contacts just exponentially with their students – especially our middle and high school level teachers.” Graves said he represents about 90 teachers as president of the Woodford County Education Association. He also serves as president of the KEA’s central district.

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