COLUMBUS — As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb in Ohio, the Ohio Education Association (OEA) is calling on state leaders and school districts across the state to demonstrate their commitment to putting students first in their pandemic response by following a four-point plan that reflects the latest science and best practices for ensuring Ohio’s children receive a high-quality education in a safe environment. The full “Putting Education First” policy update, approved by OEA’s Board of Directors, is attached to this message.
In light of the alarming explosion in community spread of the Coronavirus in recent weeks and the likely spike that will follow large family gatherings over the upcoming holiday break, OEA is urging all of Ohio’s public schools to immediately suspend all in-person instruction until January 11, to include a 14 day quarantine period after Christmas. “This reset period, whether schools delay instruction or educate students in a fully remote model, is critical not only to ensure student and staff safety, but also to give schools time to refine their delivery model and make other necessary adjustments to execute their instructional plan so students can receive the best education possible in the face of all of the challenges the pandemic presents,” OEA President Scott DiMauro explained.
To restart after the reset period, schools should be required to obtain sign-off on the safety of their instructional model from their local Board of Health, which should evaluate each district’s plans based on its ability to adhere to CDC guidelines for any in-person instruction while considering local conditions such as transmission rates and healthcare capacity. Schools that are unable to obtain sign-off must remain fully remote and shall not hold extracurricular activities. “Public health experts, not the elected politicians that serve on local school boards, should make the determination about whether schools are safe for students and staff to gather in person,” DiMauro said. “The state has thus far failed to provide true leadership or firm statewide policies. We therefore must depend on local boards of health to make difficult decisions and accept accountability when they approve any educational plans.”
An important element of OEA’s updated plans calls for local leaders to reprioritize education in their policies outside school settings to ensure our schools can remain safely open and communities can continue to recover. “The education of our children should be the top priority in every community. State and local governments should do whatever is necessary to slow the spread of this disease and diminish its impact on the delivery of instruction. These efforts should include mask wearing, limits on crowds, and expansion of testing and contact tracing programs,” the OEA Board of Directors, a body made up of dozens of educators from around the state, said in the policy adopted at its most recent meeting.
Finally, putting students first requires a commitment to fully providing resources needed to meet the needs of our students, educators, and the wider community until a vaccine is widely available and our nation can begin moving beyond these difficult times. This support should include delivering additional funding for schools to operate safely, subsidizing local boards of health, and providing unemployment and health insurance benefits for every worker and small business owner impacted by COVID-related shutdowns and restrictions. “We cannot wait any longer for federal lawmakers to finally pass the HEROES act or for the state to finally draw on the rainy day fund,” DiMauro said. “Our communities need these resources now.”