CLEVELAND — The teachers union presidents for Ohio’s eight urban school districts released a joint statement on Thursday condemning the state linking vaccination of school staff with resuming in-person schooling by March 1.
The statement includes signatures from the presidents of the Akron, Cincinnati, Canton, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown unions. DeWine previously announced that 96% of public school districts had superintendents sign forms announcing the intention to bring students back to buildings in a fully in-person or hybrid format by March 1, with vaccination of school staff beginning Feb. 1.
DeWine has called the decision to prioritize school staff in the second phase of vaccination a “policy decision” to get students back in buildings.
The timeline on when school staff would actually receive both the first and second doses of the vaccine is shaky, and could depend on supply and how quickly the vaccines would be administered.
“We are disappointed that Governor DeWine has decided to use the distribution of a life-saving vaccine as a bargaining chip, holding this precious commodity hostage while pitting parents, administrators, teachers, other school workers, and students against each other,” the statement reads. “While we expect there will be no consequences for schools that fail to meet this commitment, that doesn’t mean the Governor isn’t harming communities with this action.”
The statement goes on to point out “unrealistic expectations” set by this timeline which could push schools to reopen before it is safe and proper social distancing procedures are in place. Schools should be allowed to reopen based on a set of public health criteria, which could include vaccination of staff and teachers, the statement suggests.
The deadline for submitting these forms was on Monday, Jan. 18. All of the school districts listed on the release, except for Toledo Public Schools, signed forms and submitted them to the state by the deadline, according to a list from the Ohio Department of Health. Toledo Public Schools did not return a request for comment on Wednesday evening.
Toledo Federation of Teachers union head Kevin Dalton said the district announced plans to bring back students to hybrid learning starting Feb. 22, but did not seek input from the union on that return date. Instead, members were given a “heads up” before it was released. All students are set to be back to buildings by March 1, in a split group schedule, according to the district’s website.
Dalton was made aware that Toledo had not submitted a form, but doesn’t know why and said the union is seeking answers on that. The union has also not received a straight answer on whether the governor’s timeline influenced the decision to begin hybrid schooling, but Dalton said educational staff are looking to get back to the classroom — when it is safe. That includes vaccination and testing plans, as well as benchmarks for coronavirus risk coming down.
“There’s nobody who wants to return to school more than our members,” he said.
Akron City Schools released a timeline for vaccination and distribution, but in the draft timeline listed the return to in-person schooling as between March 1 and March 22. Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon recommended students stay remote until at least Feb. 26, but did not announce plans to return to buildings. The district was planning to bring back students during the fall semester but changed course when coronavirus cases spiked.
Gordon wrote in a letter to the community that the district will begin to communicate about hybrid options to parents to prepare for “when it is safe to make this transition.”
“While Governor DeWine had originally hoped that vaccines would begin to be available for school district employees (Jan. 15), it appears more likely that these vaccines will not be widely available until late February,” Gordon wrote. “The delay in vaccine availability, combined with the three-to-four-week period between the two required vaccination doses, means it is unlikely our CMSD employees will have received the full dose of vaccines until sometime in March.”