Huffman bill gives schools power on when to open


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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Public and private schools would be empowered to decide when they will open their buildings for the 2020-2021 school year under a bill introduced by state Sen. Matt Huffman and co-sponsored by 16 legislators.

The bill would effectively remove that decision from the office of Ohio Health Director Amy Acton.

“School superintendents and boards would still confer with state and local health departments, but the decision on when or if to open would be that of only the district,” Huffman said Friday.

The bill provides needed flexibility in the decision-making process, rather than a one-size fits all approach as to when it is best for schools to open.

“The issues dealing with COVID-19 can be different for larger school districts and smaller districts,” Huffman said.

The bill gives each school district’s board of education or governing body the authority to determine whether its buildings will be open for instruction with students in attendance. If the district or school opens its buildings for instruction, the board of education or governing authority shall determine what health safety measures and guidelines to implement in its schools to address COVID-19.

The board of education or governing body also will have the authority to authorize a superintendent, or an equivalent official, to close its school buildings if the superintendent determines it necessary to do so.

No other public official shall prohibit a school district from opening its buildings for instruction with students in attendance or cause a district to close its school buildings, according to the bill.

In the case of home schoolers, the qualifying parent will make such decisions.

“The bill has strong support from legislators, as evident by the number of co-sponsors,” Huffman said.

It’s being treated as an emergency measure. In order for it to pass, it would need two-thirds vote from the House and Senate and would go into effect immediately upon the signature of Gov. Mike DeWine. The governor could refuse to sign it, in which case it would go into effect 10 days after it was presented to him. DeWine also could veto the measure, however, the Legislature would likely have the votes to override.

“What we’re seeing is the science in early March is different than the science today,” Huffman said, noting the reason for such urgency is to ensure that changes made by this act take effect before the start of the 2020-21 school year.

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