Will there be a COVID-19-related teacher shortage?

Plus, why America isn't ready to open schools, many hot spots are connected to jails and prisons, a list of statues that have been removed, and more.

June 23, 2020

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

About one in 10 teachers in one survey said they may not return to the classroom in the fall because of the COVID-19 threat.

EdWeek.org reported:

66% of teachers, principals, and district leaders are somewhat or very concerned about the health implications of resuming in-person instruction in the fall.

36% of teachers, principals, and district leaders say they have a physical condition associated with suffering adverse effects of the coronavirus. An even higher percentage, 69%, report that a close loved one they see often has such a condition.

A new report by the American Enterprise Institute examines the “wide-ranging implications” for schools, state by state, given that it might not be safe for many educators to return to school buildings until a vaccine is developed. This could lead to districts having to come up with alternative staffing plans, as well as figuring out how to address potential teacher shortages.

The severity of the problem will vary by state, according to an AEI analysis of federal data. In Hawaii, for instance, 45% of principals are 55 and older, compared with only 9% in Illinois. More than a quarter of public school teachers in Maine and New Mexico are in this age group, compared with just 10% in Colorado and 8% in Kentucky.

The EdWeek survey also showed:

  • A large percentage of educators said they will not come back to work unless schools enact social distancing, including staggering days that students attend classes, limiting student contact with others at the school and spacing desks as far away from each other as possible.
  • Almost half of the teachers surveyed said they had not taught virtually until the COVID-19 crisis, which sent them scrambling.
  • Student engagement and parental engagement are way down.

Is America ready to reopen schools? (Hint: No.)

One way to see how ready America is to reopen schools at all levels is to look at what other countries have successfully put in place.

In Denmark, for example, public schools opened first to the youngest children, who faced the least risk for contracting COVID-19. The youngest children also present the biggest challenges for care when parents went back to work. U.S. schools are not discussing plans like that. To us, it is an all-or-nothing proposition.

Norway was similar in phasing in by grade, starting with the youngest and building up to opening high schools.

Both Denmark and Norway made in-person attendance optional for both students and school employees over age 60.

Singapore shut down schools until there were virtually no new cases. Period.

For the most part, these countries require students to always wear masks, and some have built plexiglass barriers around classroom desks like you see at supermarket checkouts now.

(Graphic from The Learning Policy Institute)

The Kansas City Star reported Monday:

Note to schoolchildren: When you head back to classrooms after months of online learning from home, make sure to bring your own pencils, calculators and crayons. Sharing school supplies is now frowned upon.

And you can’t hang out with big groups of friends at lunch. Instead of going to the cafeteria, prepare to eat in your classroom.

Don’t expect to see those friends in the hallway either. They’ll all be on different schedules to avoid crowds.

And you’ll be asked to wear a mask. All day long.

Schools will become one-way and orderly with no congregating, the school system in Kansas City said. Schools are urging parents to drop off and pick up their kids as much as they can to avoid putting students on school buses, which of course means that poorer students whose parents don’t drive or can’t be available during the pickup and drop-off times will be the ones most exposed to a virus’ spread.

Young adults (think college age) are the fastest-growing population for positive COVID-19 tests. How is that affecting how universities are thinking about reopening their campuses? Already we are seeing college sports teams reporting positive cases among the small numbers of athletes who have reported for training. I count 35 teams who have reported positive cases among players already.

Imagine what we will see when hundreds of thousands of students return to campuses.

Seven of the top 10 hot spots are connected to jails and prisons

The New York Times keeps a list of COVID-19 cases connected to single locations. Seven of the top 10 locations on that list are prisons and jails. The cluster cases linked to any single nursing home do not come close to the cases linked to lockups.

(Data and graphic from The New York Times)

The Times’ story attached to the data said:

In American jails and prisons, at least 70,000 people have been infected and at least 627 inmates and workers have died. During interviews with more than two dozen inmates across the country, many said they were frightened and frustrated by the response to their plight.

“Every day is nerve-racking,” said Elijah McDowell, an inmate at a Connecticut prison where there was an outbreak. “I already have to fight things every day, but fighting the coronavirus, it’s not a fair fight because they keep us in the dark about a lot of things.”

You only have to look at Sunday’s headlines to find the most recent outbreak example. In Jacksonville, Florida, a contract employee is linked to 20 COVID-19 cases at the county’s jail.

The Marshall Project has closely tracked the COVID-19 crisis in jails and prisons and reported, by “June 16, at least 46,249 people in prison had tested positive for the illness, a 5% increase from the week before.”

The Marshall Project said some states — including Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas — have been aggressively testing people in prison and the data shows that COVID-19 was likely far more widespread than early reports suggested.

As Marshall has pointed out, it is not just people locked up in prison who are testing positive. COVID-19 is claiming the lives of prison workers, too.

(Graphic from The Marshall Project)

A list of statues that have been removed by governments or vandals

I wanted to see a list of what has been removed, toppled and destroyed. The Hill has built such a list. Fox News’ list includes more than statues. The New York Times is trying to track where the statues will go next. And what do you do when a memorial to Confederates, a gathering place for the KKK, is carved into the side of a mountain?

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Al Tompkins is senior faculty at Poynter. He can be reached at atompkins@poynter.org or on Twitter, @atompkins.

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