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Teacher retirements down during pandemic but expected to mount

Target 12

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Retirement statistics do not support the theory that COVID-19 and the dangers and changes it brought to the classroom would spark an educator exodus.

Data released by the Rhode Island General Treasurer’s Office following a request from Target 12 shows more teachers retired last summer than the one so marred by the pandemic.

In July and August of 2019, 147 teachers retired, while 124 decided to finish their teaching careers this past summer.

Another 92 retired in September 2019, but the totals for the current month are not yet available.

According to the statistics, retirements were up in fiscal year 2020, with 349 leaving the classroom, compared to 308 in fiscal 2019.

From the month of the state’s first COVID-19 case in March when school ended in June, 46 teachers turned in their retirement papers.

National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) Executive Director Bob Walsh was surprised by the stats, but said he still expects a jump in retirements in the months to come.

He also pointed out the sum that was released did not include the number of teachers who left their profession early, before they could collect their pensions.

Walsh said while we do not yet know how many retired out of fear of the virus, losing experienced teachers is a drain on education, no matter the reason for retirement.

“Both losing that experience as a benefit to the individual students and as a mentor for their colleagues is very frustrating and very unfortunate,” he said.

East Providence Superintendent Kathryn Crowley has been in education for 44 years.

“I’ve never lived through such a stressful time as an administrator,” Crowley said.

East Providence offered an early retirement package and saw several teachers take that option, according to Crowley.

While surprised retirement numbers were not higher this summer, Crowley said she thinks many teachers expected the current school year to be different than it is.

“I think some people thought we would be all virtual for the beginning of this year, so they thought they would hang on for the year,” she explained. “Then, the governor wanted us to go in person. That will have an impact.”

Walsh agreed that some teachers may very well decide to retire after a longer stint in the classroom during the pandemic.

“The uncertainty is about as high as anything I’ve seen in 28 years of doing this,” he said.

The raw numbers offer no indication why anyone retired this year. Walsh said anecdotally, he has heard from teachers who cited virus concerns.

“Eventually, we will have all the numbers and there will be stories attached to the statistics,” Walsh added. “We may survey our teachers and find out why they decided to retire.”

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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