DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Union representatives from eight urban Ohio school districts, including the Dayton Education Association, sent a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine last week. In that letter they state the governor is using the vaccine as a “bargaining chip” to get schools back in-person before they are ready.
Next week, the vaccine will be available to 91,000 teachers and school staff across Ohio. In order to receive the vaccine, districts had to commit to return to some form of in-person learning by March 1.
Teachers unions across Ohio are calling on DeWine to reconsider making a March 1 return date a condition for teachers and schools staff to receive the vaccine in the 1B group saying, in part, quote:
“Governor DeWine should make good on his pledge to prioritize pre-K to 12 school employees, and he should do it without any coerced preconditions. School districts should plan for safe reopenings based on objective public health criteria, which would include, but not be limited to, vaccine availability for educators.”
The letter also stated that the the goal date is creating unrealistic expectations for parents, and is pressuring districts to return school before it is safe.
While the Ohio Education Association (OEA) wasn’t involved in signing the letter, affiliates in Dayton, Columbus, Canton and Youngstown were.
OEA President Scott DiMauro said he does not expect Ohio to meet a March 1 goal, and that safety for students and staff should come first.
“Trying to get schools open for in-person instruction is a notable goal, it’s one that we share, we want to get there as soon as we can, but we have to do it under conditions that are safe,” DiMauro said.
Montgomery County Educational Service Center Superintendent Shannon Cox said in Montgomery County, the majority of school districts have agreed to the March 1 return date, and only one public school has opted out.
“Our ESC is working with those districts and educational providers to be certain that they are not going to return in-person learning at all this school year,” Cox said.
DiMauro said the state should have prioritized getting vaccines to districts with high poverty rates, where students might not have the tools to maintain virtual learning.
“It would seem to make sense that let’s prioritize getting those employees vaccinated as quickly as possible in order to meet those students’ needs,” DiMauro said.
Cox said Montgomery County students were given mobile WiFi hotspots if needed in order for them to complete online schoolwork. She said this was just a short-term solution, and if virtual learning were to continue for students, there needs to be help from the federal and state level.
“Long-term, we really need Wi-Fi to be a public utility,” Cox said. “It can’t be a luxury item and school districts cannot depend on little Wi-Fi hotspots to do education from here on out.”
Vaccinations for schools begin next week. The state has a goal to have all first doses by the end of February, which would mean some educators would not have both doses by March 1.