USD 232 survey shows many teachers think COVID-19 caused ‘division’ in community

With classes back in person, USD 232 in De Soto asked educators how they've navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. In general, most educators think they've met the challenges and the school district did the best it could, but that the pandemic itself created division across the district and within the community. File photo.

Results from a recent survey of USD 232 staff show that teachers didn’t always agree with the DeSoto district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic but that most still say they tried their best under extraordinary circumstances.

In a presentation last week to the USD 232 Board of Education, Superintendent Frank Harwood said the results were somewhat expected, considering the difficulty of navigating a global pandemic and eventually bringing back all students to the classroom in January.

“Perception surveys rarely give you answers, but they can give you better places to ask the next question,” said Harwood, noting that building administrators may follow up on the survey results by finding ways to support educators more going forward.

“Access to the COVID vaccine is the thing that has helped reduce anxiety the most, which is not surprising,” said Harwood. File photo.

USD 232 conducted the survey via email earlier this month. Out of about 1,200 educators, 697 responded, a response rate of 61%.

The school district’s release of the survey results comes as Johnson County’s overall percent positivity and new case incidence rates are the lowest they’ve been since USD 232 started keeping track of that information last summer.

Meanwhile, the district says 76% of staff members — 878 of 1,148 district employees — have completed at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Harwood noted that counts excludes staff members who got vaccinated somewhere else. He said he things the true total of staffers vaccinated is closer to 85-90%.

Second-dose clinics are expected to occur in early April.

Click here to see a complete copy of the staff survey results. Here are some big takeaways:

Anxiety levels have dropped because of vaccines

  • The survey assessed teachers’ level of anxiety during the hybrid learning models compared to how they feel today with all students back in in-person learning.
  • In general, participants said they feel less anxious, mostly because of access to the COVID-19 vaccines.
  • “Access to the COVID vaccine is the thing that has helped reduce anxiety the most, which is not surprising,” Harwood said. “It’s one of the things we heard most about the clinics, a number of people talked about after getting the first dose of the vaccine, how much relief they felt.”
  • A little more than half of educators who participated in the survey — 368 — also felt they met the challenges of handling the pandemic as they expected they would.

Social distancing in classrooms is difficult

Social distancing in classrooms remains a difficult challenge. Above, students learning on site at Mill Creek Middle in October 2020. Photo courtesy USD 232. File photo.
  • A clear majority of participants — 75% of those surveyed — said they think mitigating protocols, like masking and physical distancing, are being followed in schools.
  • Such protocols also include increased ventilation and building cleaning, frequent hand-washing and sanitation of rooms between classes.
  • However, for the roughly 25% of teachers who disagreed, social distancing in classrooms, they say, remains the biggest problem.
  • “That would be the downside to being all on site,” Harwood added.

The pandemic created divisions

  • Nearly half of participants — 336 of those surveyed — said the experience of navigating the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic had reassured them of what they already knew: that they have great colleagues.
  • At least 234 educators. roughly 33% of those surveyed, said the district’s leadership did the best they could in response to the pandemic.
  • “I do think we’ve done a good job in a difficult situation, but there are certainly things we could have done better,” Harwood said.
  • A significant minority of participants — about 16% of respondents — sensed that the pandemic caused division among colleagues.
  • Nearly half of participants — or 296 educators — said the pandemic also created division between schools and the community.
  • “We know that there are some relationships that need to be repaired with our community, this is work that we’ve talked about that will need to start with the board, but also, it’s regaining some trust from everybody, and I think that goes both directions,” Harwood said.