LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Educators who responded to a survey from the Jefferson County Teachers Association overwhelmingly want to begin the 2020-21 school year remotely, the union's vice president said Wednesday.
Tammy Berlin, who teaches arts and humanities at Atherton High School, said two-thirds of the roughly 4,000 respondents to the one-question survey want Jefferson County Public Schools to start the year using nontraditional instruction. The union's surveys typically yield about 1,000 responses, she said.
The results reflect the concerns that JCPS teachers have about resuming in-person instruction after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the district, like others throughout Kentucky, to transition to remote learning, Berlin said.
"There is extremely low confidence among teachers" that schools can adhere to all aspects of the "Healthy at School" guidance issued by the Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky Department for Public Health, she said.
"A lot of what I hear is they have extremely low confidence that universal masking will take place," Berlin said, noting that she voted in support of reopening classes if public health guidelines could be followed. "They have extremely low confidence that the sanitation procedures will be able to be done. They have extremely low confidence that social distancing in classrooms will be a thing. They just don't want to be exposed to any of that without those safeguards in place."
Maddie Shepard, a JCPS learning coach and JCTA member, said she worried that in-person teaching would cost lives.
"We've got almost 100,000 kids and 6,000 teachers. Someone is going to die," she said. "We're going to bury kids and we're going to bury teachers, and we want to avoid that at all costs."
Shepard said that while educators want to return to school, they also want to do so safely. It's why she voted for NTI in the teacher union's survey.
"I'm pregnant, so I'm in one of those categories that is medically compromised," she said. "I have apprehensions about the safety of myself and my child should I return to an in-person scenario."
JCPS and other school districts are developing reopening plans under increasing pressure to resume in-person classes at the start of the school year.
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have threatened to withhold federal funding to schools that don't reopen to in-person instruction at the start of the 2020-21 school year.
The lion's share of federal funding flows to school districts through grants for educating students with disabilities and those who live in low-income households and through meal reimbursements.
"We are looking at this very seriously," DeVos said Tuesday during an appearance on Fox News. "This is a very serious issue across the country. Kids have got to continue learning. Schools have got to open up.
"There has got to be concerted effort to address the needs of all kids, and adults who are fear-mongering and making excuses simply have got to stop doing it and turn their attention on what is right for students and for their families."
Berlin called the threats from Trump and DeVos to cut federal funding from schools that don't return to in-person instruction amid the COVID-19 pandemic "a ridiculous catch-22."
"On the one hand they have guidelines for schools to reopen, and on the other hand they're saying if you can't follow those guidelines and choose a different reopening model, then we're not going to fund you," she said. "… The only way to do it safely is something that every district seems to be saying it's too difficult to do it like that."
Berlin hopes JCPS leaders will take the overwhelming survey results in consideration as it considers how it will begin the 2020-21 school year in August.
The Jefferson County Board of Education will consider a proposal to move the starting date from Aug. 12 to Aug. 25 at its upcoming July 21 meeting, which will give the district more time and flexibility to prepare for the beginning of the year.
"I think it will definitely impact what they eventually decide to do," she said.
The JCTA survey is one of several opportunities for stakeholders to share their input on how JCPS and other school districts should start the 2020-21 school year.
JCPS is finalizing results of a recently concluded staff survey, and the Kentucky Department of Education is putting the finishing touches on surveys sent statewide to teachers, classified personnel, principals, superintendents and families, according to spokespeople.
JCPS Communications Director Renee Murphy said the district has also convened focus groups to solicit feedback from families.
The district expects to release its reopening plans by the July 21 school board meeting. Murphy said JCPS is exploring the possibility of offering virtual learning options and improving its nontraditional instruction model as part of those plans.
"We understand that there's some concern out there," she said in response to the JCTA survey results. "… We're glad to get this feedback and we're glad to know these results. It's important to have this information from our teachers."
Berlin said districts should get a second wave of federal stimulus funding to help offset costs to safely reopen schools.
JCPS expects to have $29.7 million to spend from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act once shares to local private schools are distributed, but that won't cover $35.3 million in anticipated expenses plus a projected $10.1 million revenue shortfall related to COVID-19.
"We need another round of stimulus funding for families, too," she said. "I think there are a lot of families out there that are in the position that they don't know what else to do if school doesn't open in person. They are just out of options."
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