Teachers union calls for many schools to open online only

OEA says schools in "Level 3" counties, like Montgomery and Clark, should not do in-person classes

Ohio’s largest teachers union on Tuesday urged schools in Level 3 or Level 4 of the state COVID-19 alert system to begin the school year fully online.

Locally, Montgomery and Clark counties are designated as Level 3 (red) because of “very high exposure and spread” of COVID-19. Twenty-three of Ohio’s 88 counties were at Level 3 of the Ohio Public Health Advisory System on Tuesday. Greene, Warren, Butler, Preble, Miami and Champaign counties are all Level 2, while Darke County is Level 1.

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The Ohio Education Association’s board of directors adopted a position statement on “safe and equitable reopening plans for schools and campus buildings.”

“OEA stands with its members, parents, and community partners in recognizing the critical role schools play in academic and non-academic success of our students,” their statement said. “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.”

Locally, Trotwood-Madison schools announced plans for an all-online first quarter more than a week ago. Since then, the Yellow Springs, Middletown and Tecumseh school districts, as well as the Dayton Early College Academy charter schools, all backed off plans to have students return in person, switching instead to online education for at least the first quarter.

“We are concerned that with the amount of community spread that we have, we cannot offer a safe learning environment for our students … even with the safeguards we have in place,” DECA Superintendent Dave Taylor said.

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Tim Hopkins, superintendent of Brookville schools, said he’s not sure making closure decisions on a countywide basis is wise, because infection rates and school needs can vary widely from small rural communities to denser cities or suburbs.

“The countywide maps of where active cases have been confirmed shows a real discrepancy — areas with heavy numbers of cases versus areas like ours,” Hopkins said. “Yes, we’ve had COVID-19 cases, and we understand that, but it’s not been heavy.”

Hopkins stressed that the COVID-19 situation remains very fluid, and schools and families need to be prepared for changes on a local level, even after “reopening plans” have been announced.

“This is never a done deal,” Hopkins said. “We’re running about 89% who say they’re going to send their kids back to school in person and 11% have chosen our online option. But that’s just where we stand today.”

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Teachers have shared a wide variety of school reopening opinions on social media, with some largely concerned about COVID-19 safety, and others worried about educational struggles in an online model, especially with special needs students.

“Teachers are no different than anyone trying to process this pandemic and its effects on society,” Miamisburg teachers union president Jason Curry said. “They are aching to return to a sense of normalcy in educating their students, but they want to do it in the safest way possible for students, staff and the community.”

The statewide teachers union group said schools in Level 1 and 2 counties should only be allowed to open for in-person instruction “if all CDC requirements can be fully met.” OEA has been calling for stronger enforcement on use of masks, sanitization, and social distancing protocols, most of which were only listed as recommendations in state reopening guidance for schools.

Schools are reviewing staffing levels for teachers, nurses, custodial workers and others as they plan to reopen, and trying to make sure their technology infrastructure is sufficient for remote learning.

According to OEA, a mid-July poll of teachers union members found that 69 percent do not believe that schools and campuses will be able to reopen safely in the fall.

“No education employee in any setting should be forced to choose between their livelihood and their health or safety,” the OEA Board of Directors said.

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