As Arkansas schools prepare to reopen in August, many teachers are concerned for their health and their families’ health – enough that many are considering leaving the profession while some are actually doing so.

On Wednesday, the Arkansas Eduction Association released a survey of 6,000 school personnel, mostly teachers, conducted over the past weekend.

Sixty percent strongly agreed that they are “concerned about my health and contracting covid-19,” while another 23 percent agreed with that statement. Respondents were even more concerned about their family’s health, with 69 percent strongly agreeing and 18 percent agreeing that they were concerned. Another 82 percent agreed that they were “paying close attention to social distancing and (were) staying home unless absolutely necessary to leave.”

More than half, 53 percent, disagreed or strongly disagreed that they were more worried about their personal economics than their health. Only 22 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they were more worried about economics. The rest were neutral. Almost 90 percent were concerned about the health risks for students. More than 91 percent were concerned about their fellow school employees.

Not surprisingly, the situation has a lot of teachers reevaluating their career choice. Asked if the disease had made them consider leaving the profession or retiring early, less than 37 percent said “No.” Another 7 percent are leaving the profession or retiring early. Forty-one percent are considering getting out.

The Arkansas Department of Education has issued guidance to school districts that students ages 10 and above wear masks along with other recommendations regarding school lunches, standing in line at the bus stop, and other situations. It will be up to local districts to set their own policies.

Eighty-five percent of survey respondents wanted their employer to provide masks and require employees to use them, while 84 percent wanted the same for students. But 98 percent said those policies will be difficult to enforce – 79 percent saying “very difficult.”

The only surprising part of that data point is that it wasn’t 100 percent.

This is a disease that strikes older Americans much harder than younger ones. As of July 11, no Arkansas children ages 14 and under have died from covid-19. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationwide, 31 children those ages have died from the disease. In comparison, 675 children ages 12 and under nationwide died in car accidents in 2017.

But there are a lot of older people in schools – in classrooms, in confined school buses, in administrative offices, and doing the vital work of keeping schools clean and operating.

This summer, the coronavirus sent the Nashville School District superintendent and assistant superintendent to the hospital, the latter of whom has required a ventilator. And that happened before the schools were filled with snot-nosed kindergarten students and hormone-driven teenagers who absolutely will not stay six feet apart. The research indicates that children do not easily transmit the disease to each other or to adults.

But we’re still learning about this virus, which, like others, can mutate.

Given all the challenges, 57 percent of respondents opposed starting school this fall, and only 26 percent supported reopening. Respondents were more concerned with health than other concerns. Eighty-two percent agreed it was “important” that schools were closed to prevent the disease’s spread.

Asked whether schools should reopen for the sake of students and the economy, or if they should wait until it’s safe to return, their responses were weighted heavily toward safety. Sixty-eight percent want extracurricular activities, including athletics, to be delayed.

Keep in mind that this was a survey, not a scientific poll. People who answer surveys (and polls) tend to have strong opinions. People without strong opinions tend not to participate.

Still, the sheer number of respondents, more than 6,000, and the huge majorities indicating concerns can’t be ignored. Clearly, many teachers are worried about their own health – so much so that they are considering leaving the profession or are already doing so.

They’re the ones on the front lines, after all. Maybe they should get combat pay.

Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.

Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.

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