SBOE #EdPolicy Roundup: October 2021 – Impacts of COVID-19 on K–12 Public School Employees

By: Giselle Miranda, Policy Fellow

This month, the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) continues its efforts to make education research and policy concepts accessible to all stakeholders in the community. The October 2021 #EdPolicy Research Roundup features key takeaways from a September 2021 MissionSquare Research Institute report, “K-12 public school employee views on finances, employment outlook, and safety concerns due to COVID-19”

As done with previous reports, the State Board will discuss the key and relevant findings of this report and explain its implications on and connections to the State Board’s current work and priorities.

Summary: MissionSquare Research Institute released an updated report from an online survey they conducted in May 2021 asking about the impacts of COVID-19. The survey received 1,203 responses from full-time state and local government employees, including 493 K–12 school employees and 710 other government employees. The updated report focuses on the K–12 employees’ views on COVID-19 impacts on their employment and finances, as well as general COVID-19 safety concerns. And, where applicable, the survey compared responses between K–12 employees and other government employees to gauge similarities and differences among public sector employees’ perceptions of COVID-19. 

  • As a result of COVID-19 and changes in learning modality, 39 percent of K–12 employers reported working more hours now than they worked prior to the pandemic. (see figure 1)
  • K–12 employees were nearly twice as likely as other government workers to report difficulty in adjusting to changes in their jobs due to the pandemic (42 percent and 22 percent, respectively).
  • K–12 employees were significantly more likely than other government employees to have reduced the amount they were saving since the start of the pandemic; 46 percent  of K–12 employees have reduced the amount they are spending on essential or non-essential expenses. 
  • K–12 employees most commonly reported feeling stressed (52 percent), burnt out/fatigued (52 percent), and/or anxious (34 percent) about COVID-19 while at work, and were significantly more likely than other government employees to report feeling these things. (see figure 2)
  • When asked what realistic actions employers could take to improve the workplace, K–12 employees recommended promoting safety by following CDC guidelines and providing/enforcing the use of PPE, issuing bonuses or raises, and allowing work from home/remote work options.

 Figure 1 Source              

Figure 2 source

State Board Context

Two DC Council roundtables held last month—one on the re-opening of public schools (September 21) and the second on school facilities conditions (September 28)—highlighted frustrations of students, parents, and teachers related to the recent return to in-person learning for the 2021–22 school year. These sentiments are not new. The State Board conducted a survey similar to the one conducted by MissionSquare Research Institute in January 2021. The survey received 1,060 responses from public-school teachers representing 185 schools from DCPS and DC public charter schools. One of the key findings was that 75.2 percent of teachers reported feeling slightly or very uncomfortable returning to in-person teaching. 

Months after the State Board survey results were collected, 42 public witnesses testified at the State Board’s August 18 Public Meeting and 7 public witnesses testified at the September 22 Public Meeting to express continued concern with in-person learning.

Quotes pulled from public testimony:

“I am among the many concerned parents of unvaccinated children worried about unmasked children eating lunch indoors, inexcusably weak COVID-guidance, testing and quarantining rules from DCPS and others that is clearly based more in politics than science and the lack of virtual options for families with legitimate fears among rising cases in DC. I urge the State Board to act on these concerns right now.” Scott Goldstein, EmpowerED

“Our students and their families will be at significant risk if they re-enter our schools unvaccinated. The numbers for 12–18-year-old vaccination rates in Wards 5, 7 and 8 are staggeringly low. It is irresponsible to force families to send students to school in-person if their child is not vaccinated, regardless of the reason for it. Families should have virtual options.” Laura Fuchs, DCPS Teacher

“Proposals for DCPS and DC PCS Regulations: Mandate a standing virtual option/hybrid model. This will remove the number of families who do not want their students in classrooms and prioritize families with students who ‘need’ to be in classrooms… This is an unprecedented time but it has now been almost 2 years in the pandemic and it is time

Additionally, the 2021–22 school year has demonstrated significant school staff shortages. Perry Stein of the Washington Post reports that “each day of this academic year, the 52,000-student school system requests an average of 179 substitute teachers, but only fills 121 of those requests” (source). In response to the substitute shortage the district faces this school year, the District intends to spend nearly $40 million to hire additional contact tracers, substitute teachers, and workers who handle COVID-19 logistics in schools. The State Board hopes to learn even more in the coming months about the effects of returning to in-person learning for the 2021–22 school year on teachers—analyzing any publicly available data and resources on the topic.

Published by Giselle Miranda

DC SBOE Policy Fellow

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