Michigan could see a large teacher shortage amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 1:20 PM, Jul 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-31 13:20:19-04

(WXYZ) — This week, one of the nation's largest teachers unions authorized its members to strike if their schools plan to reopen without proper safety measures. All of it comes as we hear growing concerns from Michigan teachers over returning to the classroom.

Before the pandemic, teachers in Michigan were dropping out of the system, citing wage discrepancies, loss of benefits, and retirement security. But now, the pandemic is adding fuel
to the fire.

"I have asthma, I also have thyroid, I have arrhythmia so catching the COVID. Would I survive it?" Elementary school teacher Kirsten Labadie asked.

She said she gets sick several times a year. Now, she's one of thousands across Michigan having to reconcile a return to the job with the desire to stay healthy.

"I am scared to be back and exposed to all of those 20 different sets of families of germs," she said. "It does make me sad to have to weigh this decision so heavily."

If she bows out, she won't be the only one. A recent survey of teachers by the Michigan Education Association shows just over 30% of people were at least considering not returning.

It's a huge number for us because we already know that there is natural attrition," MEA President Paula Herbart said.

There's already an existing teacher shortage in the state, and the number of students enrolling in education dropped more than 71% since 2008. The American Federation of Teachers said the pandemic will only make the problem worse.

"You have teachers with underlying health conditions, you’ll have additional shortages because you have teachers who are 65 and older who shouldn’t be going in," AFT of Michigan President David Hecker said.

A 30% drop across the board would boil down to a loss of hundreds of teachers per county, possibly requiring larger class sizes.

To avoid that troubling trend, unions say they need to play a bigger role as districts put new systems in place.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

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