Community, Education, Monongalia County

Mon teachers worried about returning to classrooms

MORGANTOWN — Nearly 87% of Monongalia County educators responding to a recent survey by the American Federation of Teachers say they don’t feel comfortable returning to their classrooms this fall.

And 81% are worried about sending their own children back in the building.

“Those are pretty significant numbers,” Sam Brunett said, “and that’s what we’re looking at.”

Brunett, a longtime art teacher at Morgantown High School, is president of Mon’s AFT chapter while also serving as state treasurer of the educator’s union.

With COVID-19 cases continuing to mount in Mon, the AFT fronted the survey just to see what local educators are thinking.

He offered the  results by email to members of the county Board of Education on Tuesday night.

Email, because the meetings, while live-streamed, have been closed to the public for the past several weeks due to concerns over the pandemic.

As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, the start of the BOE meeting, the county had picked up five cases from the day before, bringing the total of confirmed diagnoses of the coronavirus in Mon to 829, as chronicled by the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Statewide, the DHHR said, West Virginia picked up 54 new cases, for 6,173 positive diagnoses.

A total of 111 people in the state have died from the virus and its complications.

Meanwhile, the first day of school is looming Sept. 8 across West Virginia’s 55 counties, and both Gov. Jim Justice and state Schools Superintendent Clayton Burch are still holding out for face-to-face learning in the classroom.

Mon County’s plan that first week will include a staggered, alternating schedule: In-school instruction for some grades, remote learning for others.

Brunett said there’s too much uncertainty to safely send people back, even by Sept. 8.

A total of 320, about one-third of the county’s teaching contingent, responded to the survey, Brunett said.

Other numbers: a total of 70%  said they are in the vulnerable population to the virus — or have a family member who is at a higher risk.

About 14% said they might even consider leaving the profession, just because.

Only 9% of respondents are in favor of a traditional five-day week in the classroom.

Donna Talerico, Mon’s assistant superintendent of schools, said the district has to continue pushing forward with back to school being just that.

But the pandemic has shown, she said, is that directives from Charleston can’t overrule droplets in the air.

“We want our kids back in school,” she said.

“That’s our goal. But we also want our students safe and our staffers safe.”
Talerico said Mon is poised to fully switch to remote learning, should it come to that.

The district will send out a survey of its own to parents next week, she said.

Chris Urban, the school system’s technology director, said she was pleased at the digital gains teachers made this past spring, after the governor shuttered schools March 16.

Just because you’re a trained teacher doesn’t automatically make you tech-savvy, she said.

Digital delivery of lesson plans and logins for Zoom meetings, she said, were revelations to more than one.

“I was working with this one pre-K teacher who was amazed at what was able to do.”

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