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Majority of Nebraska teachers surveyed think it's not safe to open schools in their districts
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Majority of Nebraska teachers surveyed think it's not safe to open schools in their districts

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More than half of Nebraska teachers surveyed by the state’s largest teacher’s union don’t think it’s safe to reopen schools in their area in the coming weeks, given the direction COVID-19 cases are trending.

About two-thirds of teachers surveyed in the more urban counties — Douglas, Sarpy/Cass and Lancaster — feel that way.

The Nebraska State Education Association sent surveys to about 19,900 of its members July 24-29 and just over 3,000 responded, with 52% saying it was unlikely their districts would be ready to safely reopen.

In Sarpy/Cass, Douglas and Lancaster counties, where cases have been on the rise, 60%, 69% and 68%, respectively, teachers said they thought it unlikely their schools would be ready to reopen in person in the coming weeks. Cases in Lancaster County, where a mask mandate is in place, appear to be stabilizing and possibly going down.

Although a majority of teachers across the state didn’t think their schools would be ready to reopen with all students back in school, 55% of them said they personally felt ready to return.

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Karen Kilgarin, NSEA director of government relations and public affairs, said that’s likely because on a personal level, teachers want to be back in school with their kids and will try to take measures to make it safe.

“Personally, teachers want to be back with their students — and yet, they want to do it safely.”

More than half the teachers in Douglas, Sarpy/Cass and Lancaster counties said they don’t personally feel safe with returning to fully reopening schools.

More than 80% of all respondents cited concern for personal safety and concern for student safety as the top two reasons they do not feel ready to return to school.

NSEA President Jenni Benson said some school districts don’t have proper safeguards in place to transition to in-person instruction, and she urged districts to follow Centers for Disease Control and local health guidelines, which for some could mean moving to distance learning or a hybrid model of remote and in-person classes.

Statewide, 47% of the respondents supported reopening with proper safety precautions; 51% supported continued remote learning until a vaccine is available.

The survey also showed that 32% of respondents were more likely to retire or leave the education profession earlier than planned because of the pandemic.

In a separate survey of retired educators, just 33% of those who substitute taught last year were willing to teach again this year. Twenty-one percent said they would not return; 46% were unsure.

A recent poll by NPR/Ipsos of teachers across the nation found 82% of K-12 teachers are concerned about returning to in-person teaching this fall and two-thirds prefer to teach primarily remotely.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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