Fearing back-to-school COVID-19 exposure, some teachers opt for safety, sparking worries of staffing shortages

NEW YORK -- As back-to-school season approaches, some teachers feel they have no choice but to leave their jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, sparking worries of possible teacher shortages for the new school year.

Already, most school districts around the country have teacher shortages, and educators in areas with widespread coronavirus transmission may refuse to return to in-person learning due to personal health, age or family concerns.

Choir teacher Megan Eyden has two kids of her own, one with asthma, and the other has diabetes. She left her job at a Texas high school this week over fears of bringing the coronavirus to her home.

"It's hard for me to imagine my life without being in the classroom ... I just felt like I was forced into a decision because I can't afford to wait," she said.

She's not alone. At Stuyvesant High School, the prestigious public school in New York City, 80% of teachers are seeking exemptions from returning to classrooms. In New York, more than 75 Department of Education employees have died due to COVID-19.

EMBED More News Videos

ABC News' Dr. Jen Ashton discusses schools reopening and COVID-19's affect on children.

The number of teachers choosing not to come back in the fall has some in San Antonio worried about a possible teacher shortage.

"We surveyed our teachers and we only had about 600 responses. But out of those 600, about 75% said that they are extremely concerned and are not interested in going back in person," said Adrian Reyna, a social studies teacher in San Antonio.

The American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1 million teachers across 40 states, says nearly 40% of its teachers in Florida are likely to retire or stop teaching earlier than expected due to COVID-19.

The organization said teachers should not have to go back to the classroom until transmission rates go down and safety measures are in place, including mask-wearing, social distancing and contact tracing. AFT also said it is willing to support teachers who decide to strike where those conditions are unmet.

"When you go into teaching, it's a joyful thing. You're going to be working with kids and when you come out, you think, I'm going to be changing the world and making a difference. And now we're talking about writing wills for ourselves, said Gina Rye, a math teacher from Spokane, Washington.

Only about 1 in 10 Americans think daycare centers, preschools or K-12 schools should open this fall without restrictions, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs. Most think mask requirements and other safety measures are necessary to restart in-person instruction, and roughly 3 in 10 say that teaching kids in classrooms shouldn't happen at all.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2022 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.