CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Public Schools is urging Ohio leaders to prioritize educators as COVID-19 vaccines are expected to arrive in the state soon, and district leaders say the timing could affect when students return to the classroom.
Under the state's current plan, teachers fall under “Phase 2” behind healthcare workers and nursing home residents and staff. On Monday, CPS board members voted unanimously to adopt a resolution to name teachers "essential persons" that should be prioritized as vaccines come available.
“I know that as we look at the data and as decisions have been made, this has caused an incredible hardship on everyone,” said CPS Superintendent Laura Mitchell of a school year made up of both blended and distance learning models.
District leaders are looking ahead in the search for a return to normalcy, but they said the local coronavirus infection rate is headed in the wrong direction. They hope the new resolution will put the district one step closer to getting teachers and students back in the classroom.
"Cincinnati Public Schools is a lot like many other organizations that are having a hard time being able to staff their facilities based upon people being sick,” Mitchell said.
Their best hope is access to a COVID-19 vaccine for teachers and other personnel, after frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents and staff.
"Without that, we will not be able to get the schools open until we are able to deal with the adults who deal directly with our kids,” said board member Eve Bolton at Monday’s meeting.
They're learning that securing the necessary vaccines may be an uphill climb.
"What do you think the real-world likelihood, from a timing standpoint, that, provided we can make sure our teachers are considered essential persons, when can we expect that widespread availability?" asked board member Ryan Messer.
Dr. Maryse Amin, Cincinnati Health Department’s epidemiologist, said the district should assume that vaccines won’t be available to school personnel before February.
"How fast that will be distributed and be able to actually implement the vaccine, I'm not sure that I can speak to that yet,” she said.
Mitchell said, even with the district in distance learning, 61 staff members and 14 students have tested positive for coronavirus.
“It's hard that our school buildings are not filled with children. It's hard for our parents. It's hard for our staff and hard for our community."
There's no word yet on if or when the state will consider the district's request.
For now, CPS is set to return from distance learning to a blended learning model in late January.