MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL — A new, statewide study from the University of Minnesota shows educators are worried but hopeful when it comes to the upcoming school year.

The Minnesota PK-12 Distance Learning Survey collected responses from over 13,000 teachers, administrators and support professionals throughout May and June. The results, released Tuesday, show many are concerned about students’ access to technology should distance learning resume. However, educators also say they're worry about the safety of returning to in-person learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey was conducted after Minnesota schools switched to distance learning as per Executive Order 20-02. It found that some educators considered the end of the school year to be “emergency work.” Others indicated their work has made them better prepared and equipped to teach if distance learning resumes.

“Overall, what we found is that educators in our state are worried, yet optimistic about what fall will look like for them and their students,” said Katie Pekel, the study’s lead researcher. “However, there is an inherent tension within our educators. They know the benefits of in-person learning and challenges that need to be addressed with distance learning, but they want everyone — including their students and their families — to be safe from the virus.”

Ninety-nine percent of educators who responded to the survey say they included an online component to their instruction last spring. Three primary areas educators say they and families need additional assistance in are:

• navigating online platforms
• effectively engaging students; and
• assessing students.

Students’ access to technology was the most frequently cited concern among respondents. Others include supporting special education students and English language-learners

“Ninety-four percent of the educators who responded to our survey have some level of worry that the pandemic is interfering with their ability to do their job,” said Pekel. “If distance learning is to continue in the fall, it can be more effective if educators can obtain the resources they need to better connect with students and their families.”

It’s still uncertain whether Minnesota’s public schools will reopen for in-person learning, resume distance learning, or attempt a hybrid model of the two. The Minnesota Department of Education says they’re still working with state health officials to monitor the spread of COVID-19 before finalizing plans.