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Pandemic Survey: Oklahoma Educators Worried About Students, Don't Think Schools Are Safe Right Now

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Oklahoma educators responding to a survey said they’re worried about their students' academic progress and well-being, worried about their health, and worried the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.

Most of the more than 3,100 responses to the Oklahoma Education Association’s pandemic survey came from classroom teachers on the job more than five years. Just 4% believed the worst of the pandemic is behind them.

OEA President Alicia Priest said 63% don’t believe Oklahoma schools are safe for in-person learning right now, and 90% said social distancing is impossible with all students in person at once.

"So, educators, who have a feel for the community and a feel for what’s going on in our schools right now, really are uncertain about what’s going to happen in the future, even knowing that we have the vaccines," Priest said.

Oklahoma educators are also getting infected with COVID at about double the rate of the general population, with 12% saying they’ve had it. One of those who has is Sharon Hill-Wooten, an Idabel teacher and bus driver with 29 years experience.

Hill-Wooten caught COVID in November and was flown to Texas for emergency treatment. A blood clot in her leg caused by the illness nearly killed her, and she has scars from where dozens of staples held her skin back together.

"My daughter says those are battle scars because so many of my colleagues in this state and in this nation did not survive COVID, and I did," Hill-Wooten said.

Slim majorities of educators said they have confidence in their district and school board to keep them safe at work, but large majorities said they have no confidence in lawmakers or the governor to do so.

The survey also asked members a variety of questions about student learning and how they’re doing. When it came to their students, 77% of respondents said keeping them on track academically is a major problem, while 66% considered their students’ mental health and well-being a major problem, and 62% said that about keeping them safe and healthy.

Majorities of teachers had some level of concern about a host of issues students face during the pandemic.

"Making sure that our students’ needs are met and that we are meeting the whole child, not just education but health and safety, mental health, making sure that they can afford the internet, and making sure that there’s some socialization going on for our students — those are all issues that our educators are concerned about," Priest said.

Educators responding to the survey largely opposed the state's recent in-school quarantine program, with 91% saying they don't think it's a good practice. They were also nearly unanimous in saying state testing should be suspended this year, with 95% saying it should be.

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