"It is the position of the (Ohio Education Association) that Ohio’s schools and campuses should only reopen for in-person instruction when conditions are met that ensure the safety of students, educators, education support professionals, their families and communities," says the OEA Board of Directors in a statement.
But 69% of OEA's educators across the state don't believe schools will be able to safely reopen this fall.
In light of this, they are urging those institutions in counties that are classified as red (Level 3) or purple (Level 4) under Ohio’s Public Health Advisory Alert System
— which means there is very high to severe exposure and spread of COVID-19 — to move to a full remote learning system and close to in-person instruction until the alert levels drop to orange (Level 2) or yellow (Level 1). Then, schools should only open to in-person instruction if all Centers for Disease Control safety requirements can be met, with a minimum buffer of two weeks to allow for the transition from remote to in-person learning.
"OEA stands with its members, parents and community partners in recognizing the critical role schools play in academic and non-academic success of students and believes that the reopening of schools for in-person instruction is essential for the wellbeing of students, families and communities. Given the dangers posed by the spread of COVID-19, however, OEA believes that reopening for in-person instruction prematurely poses unacceptable risks to the lives and health of students, adults who work in schools, and the people they care for," says the OEA Board of Directors. "Our members have entered education professions because they deeply care about the success of all students, and we are committed to meeting the needs of students in any mode of learning that maintains safety, including through remote learning as long as it is necessary."
Under the Responsible ReStart Ohio plan,
Gov. DeWine has outlined guidance for the state's schools to reopen, but has not issued requirements or enforcement mechanisms. During a press briefing in June, DeWine said there are more than 600 Ohio school districts, so the state's outlines will be broad, "fully recognizing each district has different needs and different situations."
The ReStart package instead offers "best practices" for assessing symptoms, increasing sanitation, implementing social distancing, employing a facial covering strategy and assessing and mitigating COVID risk. But they are just guidance (and downloadable informative posters) and not requirements.
The OEA is asking schools to adhere to the following CDC guidelines when considering in-person learning:
- Mandatory mask or face coverings for students, staff and visitors
- Strict adherence to six-foot physical distancing between individuals
- Stringent handwashing and sanitizing protocols
- Daily health checks for students and staff
Strict protocols for quarantining and isolating those who are presumed positive for COVID-19 and anyone who has been exposed to the virus.
They are also asking for ample testing to "ensure individuals afflicted with COVID-19 are negative prior to returning to school," and a system of contact tracing that will alert those who may have been exposed so they can isolate.
You can read the full CDC suggestions for schools here
To do all of the above, the OEA is also calling for increased funding. Among other points, they want:
- Funding for additional teachers to allow for smaller class sizes to meet physical distancing requirements
- Funding for school nurses and school health support staff to implement protocols for symptomatic students and staff
- Funding for staffing to cover substitute or temporary staff to ensure supervision of classes when teachers are required to be isolated and/or work remotely due to exposure to the virus or underlying risk factors
- Funding for additional custodial staff to perform essential cleaning and disinfecting of schools, campus buildings, and buses
- Funding for essential personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and other materials needed to maintain a safe learning environment in schools and campus buildings and in school transportation
- Funding for improvements to heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to ensure air quality and limit viral spread
- Funding for the installation of plexiglass protections where necessary
- Funding for technology devices and high-speed internet access to ensure all students have reliable, quality access to remote learning platforms
“No education employee in any setting should be forced to choose between their livelihood and their health or safety,” says the OEA Board of Directors.
And the board is demanding that procedures be in place to "ensure educators and families have a voice in how any return to in-person instruction occurs and how necessary protections function throughout the school year."
Last week, the CDC released a note
on the importance of opening schools this fall, saying, "As families and policymakers make decisions about their children returning to school, it is important to consider the full spectrum of benefits and risks of both in-person and virtual learning options. Parents are understandably concerned about the safety of their children at school in the wake of COVID-19. The best available evidence indicates if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms. Death rates among school-aged children are much lower than among adults. At the same time, the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant. Further, the lack of in-person educational options disproportionately harms low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities."