By Mike Moen, Greater Dakota News Service
Nearly two months into the school year, South Dakota teachers say they’re feeling the weight of extra work brought on by the crisis, according to a new survey from a key union.
The South Dakota Education Association recently reached out to more than 1,100 educators across the state.
Seventy-six percent of the respondents indicated they have seen an increased workload since the beginning of the school year.
Loren Paul, president of the union, said while many districts are doing full in-person learning, some parents have opted not to keep their child in class during the pandemic, meaning teachers will have to do more online planning to meet that student’s needs.
“There’s a misnomer out there that teachers just want to teach online and they don’t want to do the work,” Paul observed. “And quite frankly, teaching online is more work than teaching in person.”
Paul remarked educators also are having to do more contact tracing if a student becomes exposed to the virus.
He added having a statewide mask mandate for schools could bring more classrooms to full capacity.
The state education department did not respond to a request for comment.
Gov. Kristi Noem has resisted such a mandate, saying it should be up to individuals to make that choice. However, districts do have the option of implementing a mandate, if one is needed.
Some already have as outbreaks surface in various schools.
In addition to parents using the opt-out option, some schools, including in Pierre and Watertown, have been forced to go to a hybrid model because of outbreaks.
Meanwhile, Paul worries about how the morale issue will affect staffing levels, given the fact the state was already seeing a teacher shortage.
“I think this will be a big factor in people leaving the profession,” Paul warned.
He said that includes teachers who are close to retirement, but might decide to make this their final year.
Paul said there’s some room for optimism. The state recently announced that $75 million in federal CARES Act money was being distributed to help schools deal with COVID challenges.
He noted some districts are providing bonuses to teachers during this stressful period.