SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Fearing back-to-school COVID-19 exposure, some teachers said they are opting for safety, retiring early or leaving the profession altogether.
If I could choose to keep my kid home or to have them virtual, I would. I don’t want to send my child into a war zone, I don’t want to risk their lives or their teacher’s lives.KADI WEBSTER, DAUGHTER IS IN THIRD GRADE
Kadi Webster is a single parent.
Her daughter is going into third grade this year.
“I’m scared, a lot of people are scared, no one knows what’s going on,” Webster said.
Despite the many options parents have, she opted for five days of in-person schooling.
“If I had to make the choice between her going to school, or her having a place to live, or to have food, that’s a real issue,” she said.
She said she understands why teachers are concerned with returning to the classroom.
I feel for our teachers because they are having to make a very very hard life choice.KADI WEBSTER, DAUGHTER IS IN THIRD GRADE
“We’re asking teachers to risk their lives, we’re risking our kids’ lives, everyone is risking their lives right now,” Webster said.
Michelle Wolchok is a teacher at Fayetteville Public Schools.
She said with the growing fear, there are no doubts educators feel they have no choice but to leave their jobs.
If something really bad happened to one of my students, I don’t know how I would go on.MICHELLE WOLCHOK, TEACHER, FAYETTEVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Wolchok said this sparks worry about possible teacher shortages in the future.
“You can’t just throw a warm body in a classroom and expect education to happen,” she said. “Especially in these uncertain times.”
We asked local school districts in the area what the numbers show for school employees retiring early or leaving the profession altogether.
In Fayetteville, the school district reports 17 employees have left since May.
We had 13 retire in May and we had four additional teachers retire over the summer.ALAN WILBOURN, FAYETTEVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
In Springdale, 48 employees have asked for a year leave of absence.
According to Rick Schaeffer, with Springdale Public Schools, they will not be paid but they are guaranteed a spot in the district when they return.
Next year when we have growth and more people retire, it’ll sort itself out.RICK SCHAEFFER, SPRINGDALE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
In Rogers, out of the 2,000 employees it has, 45 have left.
These are the numbers that have made changes since mid-June due to COVID-19 considerations. Fortunately, we are on track to have these all filled, except for the bus drivers. We can always use bus drivers!ASHLEY SIWIEC, ROGERES PUBLIC SCHOOLS
In Bentonville, over the last 14 days, 20 teachers have resigned and five have retired.
We hosted our new teacher orientation yesterday and welcomed 130 new teachers. We’re still fortunate to have a tremendous talent pool.LESLEE WRIGHT, BENTONVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
In Fort Smith, almost 215 educators and support staff left the district after the 2019-2020 school year.
Fort Smith Public School Communications Executive Director Zena Featherston Marshall says most of those were food service workers. She says, of the 215 total, 14 employees cited COVID-19 as the reason for leaving. Each of them had positions that required direct contact with students.
There is a slight increase in retirements, but a slight decrease in resignations.ZENA MARSHALL, FORT SMITH PUBLIC SCHOOLS
All the districts said these numbers are about average as to what they see each year.
Since there’s a huge pool of qualified educators from other states, other districts, and local college grads — they said there’s really no worry about shortages right now.
“This is very standard,” Schaeffer said. “They are all well-vetted and we feel like they will be ready to go.”
Which is something, Webster is extremely thankful for.
Our teachers are like second parents to our kids, and without them we wouldn’t make it.KADI WEBSTER, DAUGHTER IS IN THIRD GRADE
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to include more details on the stats for Fort Smith Public Schools.