CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers on Friday filed a motion seeking to delay Cincinnati Public Schools' imminent return to in-person instruction.
CFT filed the complaint and a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction Friday in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas, according to a news release from the union. The action seeks an order to delay in-person instruction until an arbitrator can decide a grievance filed by the union. In the release, CFT argues the lawsuit was necessary to protect staff, students and families from COVID-19.
"The lawsuit was an unfortunate last resort for our union," said CFT president Julie Sellers. “We are disappointed the Board of Education and Superintendent Mitchell refused to seek input from teachers about when and how to reopen schools safely, even as Hamilton County remains rated 'red' on Ohio’s (public health advisory) COVID rating."
Cincinnati's school board voted Jan. 16 to bring some students back to in-person instruction the week of Feb 1., beginning with specialized classrooms and younger students on Feb. 2.
CPS moved to a distanced-learning model in November due to staffing issues from the virus. The district then established a goal of returning to in-person instruction when cases were below 40 per 100,000 Hamilton County residents. The latest numbers reported by the Ohio Department of Health are much higher, but superintendent Laura Mitchell argued that — despite the district's prior commitment to a statistics-based milestone — they don't tell a complete story.
"If you’re only looking at the color-coding system from the governor, that can paint you in a box," she said. "If you look at the number 40, that can paint you in a box."
Sellers said CFT has made a public records request for text messages and emails related to the decision to return to in-person instruction while cases in the county remain high.
"Unfortunately, CPS has stonewalled, forcing us to ask the court and an arbitrator to intervene and protect our members, students and all of our families," Sellers said. "In response to a survey, nearly 80% of CPS teachers said they would be uncomfortable returning to crowded schools and classrooms for in-person instruction until vaccines are distributed and can take full effect."
In a statement released Saturday night, a district spokesperson wrote that CPS knew of some workers' anxiety surrounding the plan and was taking steps to accommodate them.
"CPS is aware of concerns that have been expressed by some staff about returning to school buildings and has been actively engaged in accommodating employees who are unable or unwilling to continue teaching or performing their jobs when students return," it reads in part. "Data and experience have shown that transmission of COVID-19 is low in schools that implement rigorous health protocols. In addition to implementing the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and State of Ohio guidelines for schools, CPS has assigned nurses to every school, onsite COVID testing for students through a partnership with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and soon staff will have access to COVID rapid tests."
Distribution of the Pfizer vaccine started for the district this week, with an estimated 2,000 staff members receiving the first of two shots.
Those who fall into what the district has identified as Group A received the first dose, including:
- Teachers and paraprofessionals in preschool, kindergarten and grades 1-3 classrooms
- Teachers and paraprofessionals in specialized classrooms from preschool to grade 12
- Paraprofessionals in a one-on-one setting
- Nap aides
- Related service providers
- Custodians and building engineers
CFT representatives said the group will ask for a hearing on its request for a temporary restraining order in court on Monday.