COLUMBUS, Ohio (WOIO) - Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine called out Akron Public Schools and Cleveland Metropolitan Public Schools in a last-minute press conference on Friday evening regarding the vaccination of school employees after state officials learned the districts may not hold up their signed commitment to return to in-classroom learning by March 1 after their school personnel received the COVID-19 vaccine.
Gov. DeWine opened his conference saying, “we have learned that some kids have really not done very well remotely. Some kids, particularly in our urban schools, have been out of school for now almost a year. It’s time to get them back in school.”
He stressed his beliefs on the importance of getting students back in the classroom by describing the consequences learning remotely for a prolonged period has had on students’ academics, mental health, and social life.
The governor said returning to the classrooms would be safe if health orders are followed because tests showed that “masks really work” to prevent the spread of COVID-19, even in classroom settings where students are less than six feet apart.
The CDC reports it is safe to go back to school as long as masks are worn even if personnel have not been vaccinated, Gov. DeWine said.
“But we said to our teachers, our school districts, and all the personnel that we would take some of the precious vaccine and vaccinate teachers, custodians, cooks, anybody in the school, as long as that school said that ‘we will be back in school no later than March 1. We did that for the sole purpose of getting kids back in school. School districts promised to do this,” Gov. DeWine said.
Gov. DeWine said school districts signed a document committing to return to in-person or hybrid learning by March 1 if their adult personnel were given priority to be vaccinated.
All but one school district in the state of Ohio signed that document.
Most schools kept that promise as there is less than 15% of schools that are still fully learning remotely, Gov. DeWine said.
“The reason I am here tonight though is that we have learned that there is a handful of schools that have indicated that they will break that promise, that they would break that commitment, not just a commitment to me, but really a commitment to the children of their district. This is simply not acceptable,” the governor said.
The governor first called out Cincinnati Public Schools, saying the superintendent personally asked the governor to bump up their vaccination schedules for their personnel by a couple of days to get the kids back in school.
Gov. DeWine agreed to this on the condition that this will help the district return to the classroom.
But after all of the adult personnel in the district that wanted the COVID-19 vaccine were vaccinated, Walnut Hills High School decided to remain remote for the rest of the school year, according to Gov. DeWine.
“That simply is not acceptable,” he said.
The governor then criticized Akron Public Schools for pulling a similar act.
After every Akron Public Schools staff member who wanted the COVID-19 vaccine was vaccinated, the district decided it would not return to in-person learning until March 15, according to Gov. DeWine.
“That’s not acceptable either,” he said.
19 News obtained the following statement from Akron Public Schools Superintendent David W. James:
“Safety has been and always will be our priority for students, employees, and community at large. Akron Public Schools has had better than 2,000 students back in our school buildings since February 1. That is a hybrid model that commenced one month ahead of the governor’s schedule. It is our belief that this is in compliance with the commitment made.
We completely understand the governor’s frustration over this situation. This has always been about the kids, as he said. Akron Public Schools has been working for nearly a year with the sole mission of returning children to school AND keeping them and our teachers safe. We have worked closely, and quite well with state and local public health experts.”
Akron Public Schools Communications Director also sent out the following statement following Gov. DeWine’s press conference:
“APS has vaccinated 2,000 of 3,000 teachers and staff requested vaccine. By tomorrow afternoon, all 3,000 will be covered with first shot. Next will come 2/27 and the following week. Then we wait one week for immunity.”
Cleveland Metropolitan School District got called out by the governor next:
“We have heard different reports about whether Cleveland will go back March 1. So, I called up the CEO, Eric Gordon. We had a frank, very plain, but a very good discussion. And frankly, I called him because we are in the midst now of vaccinating teachers and personnel in Cleveland city schools. And so, my question to him was, ‘Are we to stop the vaccination? Should we stop the vaccination?’ So, we talked. He made a commitment to me, I’m very happy to report, that he’s going to do everything in his power to get his students back in school by March 1. We appreciate that, and I thank him for that. And I understand there’s some challenges that he has, but he’s going to make every effort.”
19 News received the following statement from CEO Eric Gordon:
“As Governor Mike DeWine shared at a press conference this evening, I spoke directly with the Governor about our continued efforts to open CMSD as quickly as we are able to do so, knowing his expectation for all Ohio districts is March 1.
At last Tuesday’s Board meeting, I announced my intention to update our students, parents and caregivers, educators, and the entire CMSD community of our reopening plan on next Friday, Feb. 19, and I still plan to do so.
In the meantime, our preparation to reopen schools has already begun. This morning, we began printing a districtwide mailer that will arrive in all CMSD households the week of Feb. 22 with children’s school and transportation assignments. Additionally, a plan is in place to resume spring sports on Feb. 22, and we have already prepared our school buildings, buses, and classrooms for reopening safely.
In the meantime, the District made significant progress this week in our effort to vaccinate 7,000 CMSD employees. In the first three days vaccines were available, we vaccinated 2,400 staff. We expect to have all employees vaccinated with the first of two required doses by next weekend.”
Gov. DeWine said parents will still have the right whether to send their children back to school.
The governor described how the state is not forcing any district to go back to in-classroom learning.
However, the state does not want those districts to have their personnel get priority vaccinations if the district does not plan to uphold their signed commitment to return to in-classroom learning by March 1 after those vaccinations were administered to those who wanted it.
Watch Gov. DeWine’s press conference in its entirety here: