Arkansas’s students are suffering from emotional distress, learning loss, and undernourishment as the state experiences a rapid surge in COVID-19 infections, according to a recent survey conducted by the Arkansas Education Association. In addition, the majority of survey respondents believe a brief virtual shift would be the best option to limit daily disruptions and keep students and educators safe.
“We have learned the hard way it is more difficult than ever to be an educator,” said AEA President Carol Fleming. “With no option to pivot to virtual, and AMI days running out, we wanted to get a broader perspective of what our educators are experiencing and what insight they could provide into the ever-growing need for mitigating the effects of the virus on students and educators.”
STUDENTS ARE SUFFERING
While educators are worn thin from trying to stay healthy and keep their families safe, they have also had the added stress of worrying about the well-being of their students. An overwhelming majority of respondents, 94.07%, reported that their students have suffered some level of emotional distress due to the pandemic. 72.44% reported some level of undernourishment in their students, and 96.69% have observed academic losses.
“Our top priority is to keep our students and educators safely learning in their classrooms – and we have the tools to make that possible,” Fleming said. “Educators are always showing up for their students – but we need the support and resources to do what we love most. Whether it’s repairing broken, outdated HVAC systems or addressing the shortages of rapid tests – we’re asking for what is needed to make in-person learning safe.”
EDUCATORS FEEL IGNORED
“Educators are on the front lines of this pandemic and have become experts on delivering meaningful instruction during this health crisis,” Fleming said. “However, it seems most of them are not even being asked what they think.”
Most respondents, 72.08%, disagreed with the statement “My district is listening to educator input as it relates to COVID-19″. Furthermore, 63.76% disagreed with “My district is treating me in a way that makes me feel respected and valued.” To that end, only 46% of respondents feel comfortable reporting health and safety violations.
AMI DAYS ARE RUNNING OUT
Many schools had to close because of staffing shortages due to rising infection rates, using their 10 allotted AMI Days (Alternative methods of instruction). While the use of AMI days can help keep educators and students safe in the short term, they are currently capped at only ten (10). Once a school exhausts their days, the school calendar will be extended into the summer break. 63.10% of respondents reported that their school is using AMI days in response to the omicron spike. While the legislation states that AMI can be delivered virtually, educators reported that 62.22% are being mandated to conduct synchronous instruction.
“Educators know how important it is to remain flexible in responding to unprecedented and rapidly changing circumstances – we have shown up every day the past two years, adapting and innovating the ways we teach and interact with our students,” Fleming said. “But right now, our districts don’t have the flexibility they need. If districts exhaust AMI days and the school calendar is extended, what does this mean for educators who are teaching virtually and then making up days at the end of the school year?”
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?
We sent four hypothetical options for educators to choose what they feel schools should be doing to keep themselves, their families, and their students safe. 50.38% agree that schools should move to virtual instruction until positivity rates begin to decline and 29.50% wish to remain in-person, but with strong mitigation strategies such as mask mandates. 9.39% would like to return to a hybrid model of teaching both online and in-person, and 10.73% would like to see virtual options and mask mandates eliminated while keeping schools open.
“We know the impacts of the pandemic can look different from community to community,” Fleming said. “Each school district across the country needs to bring together parents, educators, administrators and elected officials to collectively make local decisions that will best keep our students safe.”