School & District Management From Our Research Center

Just How Widespread Are the Threats to Educators Over COVID Policies?

By Holly Kurtz — November 11, 2021 3 min read
Seminole County, Fla., deputies remove a parent from a school board meeting during a heated discussion about mask mandates in September.
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It’s probably an understatement to say it’s been a challenging school year so far, especially when you look at the most recent survey data from the EdWeek Research Center.

Sixty percent of principals and district leaders responding to the survey said at least one of their staff members has faced threats from people who are dissatisfied with their district’s approach for dealing with COVID-19. At the same time, 57 percent of principals and district leaders reported that pandemic-related supply chain problems and staffing disruptions have hurt their ability to serve school meals. And school district mask mandates—which have fueled the anger of some parents—remain widespread across the country.

The survey was administered online Oct. 27 to Nov. 3. A total of 977 educators responded to the survey, including 204 district leaders, 156 principals, and 617 teachers.

Educators are facing threats due to COVID-related mitigation measures

Hostility toward educators has become a national issue as parents have expressed anger over how schools have handled the pandemic. After sending President Joe Biden a letter this fall seeking federal assistance to deal with threats, harassment, and violence targeting school officials, the National School Boards Association subsequently backtracked, apologizing to its members for language used in the communication. The apology was made in the wake of criticism from GOP lawmakers and conservative groups who said school boards were mislabeling outspoken parents exercising their right to free speech as criminals and “domestic terrorists.”

In the most-recent EdWeek Research Center survey, 60 percent of school and district leaders said someone in their district had been verbally or physically threatened in the past year by those displeased with a school’s or district’s approach to COVID mitigation measures. The share of administrators reporting harassment or threats was even higher among leaders from larger districts with 10,000 or more students (85 percent); suburban leaders (78 percent); and those from Western states (74 percent).

Principals and district leaders were most likely to say that principals had been threatened, followed by superintendents. Nearly 1 in 3 said school board members had faced threats. And in write-in responses from the survey, several administrators noted that school nurses had faced threats, including one who was threatened “by our own staff.”

COVID-related supply chain problems, staffing disruptions affect school meal programs

COVID-related food supply chain disruptions have received a great deal of media attention, and schools have not been immune. More than half of school and district leaders (57 percent) say supply chain and staffing challenges have hurt their ability to serve school meals.

There have been some dramatic problems related to these challenges, such as kids going hungry when meals weren’t delivered to a Philadelphia school. But school and district leaders were most likely to report more minor issues, such as serving a smaller selection of food items than usual.

“We have been able to serve breakfast and lunch to all students, but the staffing shortages have led to students waiting in lines for 30 minutes or more and the supply shortage has led to some things being unavailable,” a high school principal in New York said in a write-in survey response. “We consider ourselves fortunate.”

Mask mandates remain widespread despite the uproar in some communities

Nearly three-quarters of school and district leaders (72 percent) said they have some sort of mask requirement, a share that is relatively unchanged since the EdWeek Research Center last asked about masks during the August/September survey. At that time, it was 70 percent. Most in the new survey (56 percent) said all students and staff were required to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.

Mask requirements vary significantly by location and by student demographics: While all the Northeasterners responding to the survey reported some sort of mask requirement, nearly half of Southern administrators said no one was required to wear a mask. (Thirty-four percent of Midwesterners and 25 percent of Westerners reported no mask requirements.) Mask mandates were also more-frequently reported by administrators in urban areas and in districts serving higher percentages of students of color.

Holly Kurtz, Director contributed to this article.

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