Ascension Association of Educators releases survey

Staff Report

The majority of members of the Ascension Association of Educators, a local affiliate of the Louisiana Association of Educators, say after more than a week back working face-to-face with students, they continue to feel the reopening of Ascension Parish Schools should have been delayed, and they would feel more confident for the safety of students, themselves, and the community if the district committed to going to 100 percent virtual instruction until there has been a significant reduction in the amount of COVID-19 cases in the parish.

On July 30, AAE created and disseminated a survey to gauge the thoughts of Ascension Parish school employees concerning the reopening of schools.

On July 30, AAE created and disseminated a survey to gauge the thoughts of Ascension Parish school employees concerning the reopening of schools. The survey was completed by 238 faculty and staff from nearly every job category within the district, working with students at every grade level. The primary concern cited by 91 percent of the respondents was “the health and safety of students, staff, and their families.”

“Adequate resources to execute the district plan safely” came in as the second most common concern, cited by 39 percent of those who took part in the survey. Thirty-seven percent indicated they also worry about there being “an adequate commitment to execute the district plan safely.”

For many, anxieties were confirmed when they resumed working directly with students on Aug 10. Members cited a variety of issues, such as an inability to maintain social-distancing measures between students, students removing masks or not wearing them properly, staff not always wearing masks or maintaining social distancing, irregular cleaning of high-traffic areas within classes, an insufficient supply of sanitizing products, and a lack of training and protective gear to use sanitizing products with warning labels denoting them as extremely hazardous.

At a recent AAE membership meeting, a Professional Problems Committee was formed to compile the concerns of the members and bring them to the attention of Superintendent David Alexander. The superintendent met with members of the committee on Aug. 11 and assured them of his and his staff’s commitment to address issues with the district plan as they come to his attention.

However, most members of the Ascension educators’ union still feel that the district plan, while well intended, cannot possibly ensure health risks are mitigated enough for either students or employees given the current number of cases and hospitalization rates in the area to justify the return of to face-to-face instruction at this time.

Roughly 38 percent of parish employees who took the survey identify as being high risk for the virus due to other health factors, and 52 percent of them submitted they have a person in their household who is high-risk whom they fear bringing the virus home to.

Another factor in their anxiety has to with the age of respondents. Eighteen percent of those who responded are aged 50 or older. At the time of its dissemination, only 13 percent of the survey respondents felt safe and prepared to return to school on Aug. 10 using the district plan. When asked what would make them feel ready for schools to reopen, the most common responses involved a reduction or elimination of new COVID-19 cases, followed by more preparation time and better social distancing and disinfecting measures.

When asked their preference for starting back, the most common answer, nearly 29 percent, was to “go all virtual until the new COVID cases in Ascension fall below the number of cases when schools were closed” in March. At 25 percent, the second most common preference was to “go all virtual for at least the semester.” Another 17 percent indicated they thought it would have been better to begin after Labor Day using the district plan, and 14 percent felt that the district should “go all virtual until there are no new cases in Ascension for 14 consecutive days.” Only 7 percent of district employees surveyed felt safe and/or prepared to resume classes as scheduled using the plan being implemented.

Brandi Williams, a member of the association and teacher at Central Middle School, said, "Many factors surrounding this national crisis have created unrest in the lives of both school-aged children and their families. As educators, we truly crave to be with our students to help them through this. We understand the important role educators play in the emotional well-being of our students. However, when we see outbreaks among children and educators rising in other states and parishes where schools reopened before us, when we see the number of cases reported within our own schools last week, we fear the outcome of rushing too quickly to get back to in-class instruction will have life-long, and possibly fatal, consequences for the health of some students and school employees.”

Angela Mathews, another AAE member and long-time bus driver for Ascension Parish Schools said, “I fear the emotional impact that witnessing a classmate or faculty member getting seriously ill or worse from contracting the virus while at school might have on students, or their taking the virus home with them and passing it on to a family member who is high risk. Because of these factors, we as an association must advocate for going 100 percent virtual until we know we can provide a safe learning environment for everyone in our schools.”