Nearly one-third of U.S. teachers are 50 years or older, according to federal data. That puts them at higher risk of becoming seriously ill from the virus. And the publication Education Week has identified more than 300 school staff and former educators who’ve died from COVID-19.
“There’s obviously a lot of fear because there are so many unanswered questions,” said Noel Candelaria, president of the Texas State Teachers Association.
He says school staff with underlying health conditions are also concerned. Consider his own family: Candelaria is married to Patty, who is a dyslexia therapist and has had three surgeries to fix a congenital heart defect.
“There are educators, like my wife, who if the districts do not provide an alternative method for them to do their job from home without exposing themselves, (they) are seriously considering a medical leave,” Candelaria said.
Texas public school districts are still waiting for safety and health guidelines from the Texas Education Agency. They were scheduled to be released last week, but were delayed after the Texas Tribune published draft rules indicating few mandatory safety measures.
That has weighed on many teachers.
“We can’t just talk about student health and safety without talking about educator health and safety, because they’re sharing the same space,” Candelaria said.
The Association of Texas Professional Educators recently surveyed some 4,200 educators. About 60% said they were concerned about their health and safety heading into the 2020-21 school year.
Sso far, however, that concern hasn’t translated into an increase in retirements. Nearly 22,000 teachers and state employees have retired this fiscal year, compared to about 25,000 last year, according to the Teacher Retirement System.