COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he had a deal with school districts: The state would vaccinate K-12 teachers from COVID-19 if schools pledged to resume in-person learning in some form by March 1.
During an unexpected news conference Friday evening, DeWine said some districts are going back on the deal after teachers received their first doses, including Cincinnati Public Schools
"We learned this week that Walnut Hills High School will remain remote the entire year," DeWine said. "That simply is not acceptable."
Expressing concern especially for children in large city school districts, DeWine said his administration has learned that some children have fallen behind in remote learning, and in effect "have been out of school for over a year.”
"There are social and mental health consequences," he said of remote learning. "That's why we prioritized vaccines for schools -- otherwise, they'd go to a more vulnerable group."
The governor cited CDC guidance and Ohio's own studies that have shown classroom environments are safe -- even if students sit fewer than six feet apart, and if teachers are not fully vaccinated -- as long as everyone masks up.
Due to spacing concerns at Walnut Hills High School, some parents and the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers have called for an extension on remote learning.
On Monday night, the Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education approved a measure from Board Member Mike Moroski to keep Walnut Hills HS virtual "until the district elects to accept three-feet social distance as the standard."
“It is disappointing that the efforts we have made are not highlighted, and that this one situation is," Moroski told WCPO Friday. "We want all of the students back in school, but we have to be safe and smart about it. We are very grateful for the vaccines, and we are doing our very best.”
"Walnut, as we all know, is completely overcrowded and we could not give that school the same 6 feet that every other school was granted. 99% of our schools are open," Board Member Ryan Messer said in a message to WCPO Friday.
CPS released a statement Friday night, saying there was "no malintent associated with" the Walnut Hills delay and adding that more than 30,000 CPS students at 64 schools will be receiving some in-person instruction.
"CPS fully intended to include Walnut Hills in the return to blended learning and, until Monday, was moving forward with that plan. The board decision will return our last school to in-person learning as soon as it is equitable to do so," the statement read in part.
Ohio educators whose districts agreed to resume in-person learning by March began receiving vaccinations in late January — but because the COVID-19 vaccine must be administered in two shots, most educators will return to classrooms, or already have, with only one dose.
For school districts going back on the pledge, DeWine said, the state could pull vaccines bound for schools and route them to other vulnerable populations. It is still unclear what might happen for school districts whose staff have already received vaccines.
“We’d have to see what else we can do," DeWine said.
Read the full statement from CPS below:
"On January 18, Cincinnati Public Schools signed a form committing that students would return to some in-person learning by March 1. Following the submission of that form, the board voted twice to affirm this choice.
The return to blended learning commenced on February 1, and by March 1 more than 30,000 CPS students representing 64 schools will be receiving some in-person instruction.
The blended learning model would have required Walnut Hills High School to follow a different social distancing standard than the rest of the district due to its small classroom sizes and high-student enrollment. As a result, there was an outpouring of concern from Walnut Hills High School parents and students and, on Monday, the board voted to delay the return of students at Walnut Hills High School until all schools follow the same three-foot standard for social distancing.
It is important for us to convey that there was no malintent associated with the Walnut Hills High School delay. CPS fully intended to include Walnut Hills in the return to blended learning and, until Monday, was moving forward with that plan. The board decision will return our last school to in-person learning as soon as it is equitable to do so."