JACKSON • As educators and their supporters begin to protest across the state urging for a delayed start to the upcoming school year, a new survey of nearly 2,400 teachers in Mississippi shows most do not want to return to traditional in-person schooling.

The survey released Monday was administered by the Mississippi Association of Educators, the state’s teachers union. Of the 2,391 respondents from every county in the state, 78% were teachers, 5% were teaching assistants, and the remaining respondents identified themselves as administration, counselors or other.

When asked about their thoughts on reopening schools, 86% of respondents expressed negative sentiments advocating for schools to re-open at a later date and/or virtual learning.” They also cited concerns for their health as well as the health of their students.

Though the survey report did not identify teachers by name, many said they were concerned about their district’s ability to get proper safety measures and technology in place by the start of school. Some said they wanted more guidance around how to teach and interact with students now that so much has changed.

About 7% of respondents said they support reopening schools without modifications to the traditional school model, citing students’ mental health and security as a concern” as well as a need for normalcy, according to the survey report. A separate 7% said they support the traditional school model, but with modifications like mask mandates and social distancing guidelines.

In a joint statement over the weekend, the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Mississippi State Medical Association said “schools should make every effort to open in-person school safely this fall, while also considering the earlier White House guidance that cases in a given region or state should be on a downward trajectory before reopening.”

The groups also advocate for a delayed reopening until at least Sept. 1, a statewide mask mandate, and mandatory masks for everyone in school buildings, no matter their age. Additionally, all kids should have the option to choose virtual learning for any reason and districts should consider all possible ways to continue in-person learning for students who may not benefit from virtual learning.

The Mississippi Department of Education has left the decision of how and when to open up to each individual school district, though the agency did offer three options to do so: virtual, in-person or a mixture of the two. Districts must decide by Friday.

The survey asked respondents which method they prefer. The answers were split: 42% prefer a hybrid model, 40 percent prefer virtual, and 18 percent prefer traditional, in-person schooling.

MAE President Erica Jones, in a letter to state officials, requested school buildings remain closed until the average daily infection rate of Mississippians tested falls below 5 percent.

The organization asked state leaders to waive state testing. An overwhelming majority, 95 percent, said state testing should be suspended for the 2020-21 school year because of the pandemic. The Mississippi State Board of Education has not taken that step yet, but state testing was suspended for the previous school year, when COVID-19 first hit the state.

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